Apr
02
2020

Why all those *other* people don’t have toilet paper.

‘Other people’ because I assume that my readers, like myself*, took elementary precautions ahead of time to ensure that we’d weather this particular crisis. anyway, it’s maybe not hoarding that’s causing the problem. Via Twitter, but I can’t remember which account:

…the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.

Georgia-Pacific, a leading toilet paper manufacturer based in Atlanta, estimates that the average household will use 40% more toilet paper than usual if all of its members are staying home around the clock. That’s a huge leap in demand for a product whose supply chain is predicated on the assumption that demand is essentially constant. It’s one that won’t fully subside even when people stop hoarding or panic-buying.

This, indeed, makes logical sense to me. It’s one of the problems of our modern age: we’re really, really big on efficiency in how we distribute both raw materials and goods. That works great when everything else is working great, but not so great when things get disrupted enough at a crucial link in the chain. As the article notes, commercial toilet paper is also different than consumer toilet paper, and while I’m sure many people wouldn’t care right now they still have to get the other kind to the stores somehow.

The good news? All of this will fix itself. Eventually. Then again, that’s how it usually works anyway.

Moe Lane

*And by ‘myself’ I mean of course ‘my wife.’

4 Comments

  • Luke says:

    I remember feeling chagrin at all the people panic buying toilet paper. Especially with the “it’s cheap and disposable, it must come from China!” justification.
    .
    Score one for the wisdom of crowds, I guess.
    (We’re not out, having four females in the house, and dog who thinks it’s hilarious to grab the end of a roll and go running through the house, I tend to stock up. But we’re getting low.)
    .
    I grew up in a ranch in Idaho. A couple of weeks cut off from civilization was called “winter”, and old habits die hard. So people watching was fascinating and surreal. (Especially when someone practically grabbed me by the lapels, and yelled at me “You might not be able to get to the store for a week! You’re not from the suburbs! You don’t understand!” I’m sure they meant well.)

  • Rockphed says:

    I grew up with parents that had a years supply of wheat in the basement and could probably have lived cut off from society for 6 months without noticing. They would have noticed if the power, gas, or internet was cut, but if everyone else on the block turned into ravening zombies they would have shrugged. We had enough TP to last a good long while. My current house is a decent sized apartment considering there are 5 of us and we keep about a month’s supply on hand.

  • acat says:

    This explains why port-a-potties and park bathrooms are getting looted for TP. (and hand sanitizer ..)
    .
    We were halfway through our normal stock-up cycle .. assuming the residential side re-balances in a reasonable time, we’re fine … and if not, we’re comfortable going a bit more primitive. (the bleach supply was more recently re-stocked…)
    .
    Mew

  • junior says:

    The problem with the theory is that the toilet paper supplies at the local supermarket got cleaned out *before* people were ordered to stay home. Now that might be why the shelves continue to stay empty. But that’s not what caused the initial run in the first place.

    Incidentally, there’s yet another reason not mentioned why the supplies still aren’t on the shelves. Current tax law (based on a court decision a while back that a lot of people would like to see undone) allows companies to be taxed based on the inventory that they have. So if a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer, keeps a supply of its product on hand to help cover an interruption in their own supply chain, they’ll get taxed on that amount of inventory. Thus, it’s in the company’s own best financial interests to keep the inventory just large enough to handle the immediate needs, and no larger (in addition to whatever additional storage space is needed).

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