The USPS Has a Lot More Cremated Remains Than You Might Expect

A new report has plenty of details on how the Postal Service handles cremains

Mail truck
Turns out some unexpected things get sent in the mail.
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year, musician Hamilton Leithauser received something in the mail that he wasn’t expecting — the cremated remains of a person he’d never met. That led to a surreal and engaging thread on Twitter, but it also raised an interesting question, namely — just how often do people’s cremains get sent through the mail? The answer, it turns out, is more often than you might think. But the strangest part might come when the U.S. Postal Service can’t deliver those remains.

As Jalopnik reports, over 400 people’s remains are currently in the custody of the Postal Service. 452 distinctive sets of cremains, in fact — which is about 452 more than I’d ever expected to be in the hands of the USPS or, for that matter, any other entity dedicated to shipping. (Though, as it turns out, the USPS is the only legal way someone can ship cremated remains within the United States. You learn something new every day.)

Earlier this month, the Postal Service released a report on the cremated remains it has in its custody. Some of the findings were, shall we say, unsettling. “The Postal Service was not always in compliance with Cremated Remains acceptance procedures,” the report declares early on. “Specifically, Cremated Remains packages were not always properly labeled.”

This is not a small matter — as the report details, 165,838 sets of remains were shipped during the 2022 fiscal year, an increase over the 2021 fiscal year, when 147,283 were shipped. Unfortunately, not all of these could be delivered properly — which leads to the eye-opening information that, as per the report, “as of February 27, 2023, the [Mail Recovery Center] had 452 undeliverable and/or unidentifiable Cremated Remains packages, with the oldest dated February 24, 2015.”

Someone Sent Cremated Remains to The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser
He detailed the situation in an epic Twitter thread

As the report notes, this inquiry came about at the request of Senator Mike Braun. It also contains several recommendations for improving the way that the agency handles cremated remains, both in terms of getting people the right packaging for it and ensuring that any such remains reach their destination on time.

“[T]he Postal Service has an opportunity to help reduce potential missing and/or damaged Cremated Remains packages by enhancing packaging requirements,” the report states — which seems like one worth pursuing.

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