It’s gone beyond a joke to an everyday fact of life as we now know it in early April of 2020 there is simply no toilet paper to be found on store shelves. If you want to wipe where the sun don’t shine, you need to show up right at store opening time and just hope you get lucky, or else take your infection risk on a road trip by hitting up multiple stores all over town. Shopping for TP online is dicey as well — prepare to pay inflated prices, and even then, you still need to be quick with a mouse click lest you get that dreaded “the item just became unavailable” message.
So why is there no toilet paper to be had, when we were promised no disruption in the supply chain? Is it all down to panic-buying? If so, who are these people with closets full of bath tissue, and can we go over to their houses the next time we have to… you know?
While panic-buying is not to be discounted as a factor in shortages of this kind — the Atlantic recounts the four-month-long Great TP Shortage of 1974 which was triggered by nothing more than a joke Johnny Carson made on The Tonight Show — it turns out that toilet paper hoarding isn’t the only issue at stake here.
There's too little of the right kind of paper
Think about a normal day back in, say, February 2020. Five days a week you’d get up, go through your morning ritual (which may have included a small amount of a certain tissue product), then leave the house to go to work where you’d spent eight hours using the office restroom. Then at night or on the weekend, you might go out to a restaurant, a bar, or a movie theater where, again, when you had to go, it would be in someone else’s facilities. Yes, well, things are different now. According to toilet paper manufacturer Georgia Pacific (via Marker), the average household will go through 40 percent more paper when all of its members are home all of the time.
So what’s the problem? We’re doing our business here, we’re doing it there, paper is paper, right? Wrong. Commercial toilet paper is actually a very different product than the domestic variety. It’s not only thinner and made with different material, but comes in huge rolls that won’t fit on that little spindle thing you have in your bathroom. What’s more, much of this paper is now locked up tight in unused college campuses, office buildings, sports stadiums, and everywhere else we’re no longer spending our time.
Why toilet paper manufacturers can't fix this problem
While the paper industry would love to be able to re-tool their entire production and distribution chain on the fly to make sure there’s more of the TP we need and less of the kind we don’t, the manufacturing industry doesn’t work that way. This sheltering-at-home thing isn’t going to last forever, after all, and they’d then have to go through all the trouble and expense of reversing the process so we’d have enough paper to cover our behinds (and other areas) once we’re back on the job.
So what can we do about this toilet paper crisis? Not much. Perhaps consider installing a bidet, if funds permit, or making use of DIY TP substitutes if things get really desperate. Whatever you do, though, do not judge your fellow toilet paper shoppers too harshly since they’re probably not hoarding the stuff. Chances are, they’re down to their last roll, as well.
There is one silver lining to this toilet paper roll-shaped cloud, however — at long last, it puts an end to the great “over or under” debate as to how to hang the roll. After all, there’s no right way to do it when there’s no toilet paper left to hang.
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