Maybe it’s the time of year or the pandemic, but in December, we all tend to evaluate the past 12 months, what we’ve experienced. 

I’ve noticed a lot this year, but one area that has taken a quantum leap forward is the business of delivering packages and mail.

Most days my mailbox is filled with useless propaganda from sporting goods stores desperately wanting to give me $20, but only if I spend $100; that’s 20% off for those of you who are keeping track. Or home construction and remodeling contractors promoting windows, decks or new roofs.

The mailings continue like the predictable drip of an IV. I walk to the mailbox daily, remove the unwanted mail, carry it to the recycling bin, lift the lid like a drone, and drop them into the darkness – unopened, unloved and unused. And no matter how many times I rip that needle out of my postal arm, it reappears the next day pumping more useless material into my world.

I don’t know for sure if the mail carriers appreciate it or not, but it seems in some ways it’s what’s keeping them employed. Although carriers fulfill a valuable role in our communications pipeline, it’s hard to deny the abundance of recycling fuel that fills our mailboxes.

I suspect I’m like most people. Christmas cards are the only items my wife and I send via U.S. Mail. Perhaps that is sad since there is still something special about receiving a hand-addressed envelope with a card that has further hand-written notes inside. It is a sign that somebody cared enough to put some thoughts down on paper. Perhaps that’s why I always feel guilty when I ultimately end up throwing those cards away. It’s like you are tossing a little piece of that person in the garbage. Like a memory erased.

But for all that has changed in how we communicate messages with loved ones – hello email and text messages – what catapulted forward in 2020 was the dawn of a new era in package delivery. The pandemic played a massive role in pushing product delivery to new heights. With more of us stuck at home, we have relied on UPS, FedEx, Amazon and USPS to deliver everything from socks to salmon. And, oh, what a box explosion.

I know more about box construction than I ever imagined as it has become necessary to break them down just to manage the weekly, if not daily, onslaught. For instance, it’s obvious Amazon understands box tape better than any other vendor. Their tape is sturdy but easy enough to slit open with your thumbnail. And they only use it on the critical box seams, with no double-taping. The material in their boxes is also easier to break down than competitors, which means it’s probably less expensive. It’s the McDonald’s approach to efficiency. And that all makes sense because once we have ripped through the outer box, there is usually another box inside containing the product we ordered. It’s often a bit fancier and harder to crush. But crush it we will. Message to the vendors, “We are throwing these boxes away almost as quickly as we open them, so feel free to dumb them down.”

Somewhere an engineer is working on the next great box that will open, flatten and recycle easily. The pursuit of the great white whale box. That’s important for us because we have to do something with all these boxes as they accumulate in our garages. While cans and bottles used to dominate the recycling bin, the flattened box has now become the big kahuna. Slit, bend, flatten. That is a daily routine for many of us. Another day, another box, two or three. I used to toss them into the garage and allow them to slowly multiply into a cardboard mountain before deciding what to do with them. That was no longer possible in 2020 as the mass quickly morphed into a Chinese dragon snarling at the bumpers of our parked cars.

Although we may never go backward in this new world where getting almost anything delivered directly to our doorsteps is possible, the method of delivery will likely change, with trucks replaced by drones. But the packages will continue for now. And someday, when we all have 3D printers in our homes, perhaps even the packages will stop.

Then we can recall the good old days of boxes, tape and packaged surprises…and the occasional hand-written letter in the mailbox.

Keith Anderson is director of news for APG of East Central Minnesota.

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