Whats up with toilet paper?
Flushing out the true cause of the global toilet paper shortage amid coronavirus pandemic
When the history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, the vanishing of toilet paper might rank as just a footnote in an otherwise dark and frightening account. But it might be a very long, complex and even wise footnote, because toilet paper — or rather, the lack of it — turns out to reveal a great deal about who we are and how we behave in a crisis.
It showed David Cohen something about the nature of humanity: As a checkout guy at a supermarket in Asheville, N.C., he saw people buying absurd amounts of toilet paper, but he also saw people reach the cashier’s counter and decide suddenly to consider those who have less.
“Some people said, ‘Wait, I’m going to put these rolls back on the shelf so somebody else can get some,’” said Cohen, who was happy to wait while his customers made a quick return visit to Aisle 14.
It has become something of an obsession. You can’t find it at your local market, which can’t get nearly enough from its distributors, which are getting their normal supply from the manufacturers, which isn’t remotely sufficient.
Demand is as flush as supply is bare. Americans have spent $1.4 billion on toilet paper in the past four weeks, a 102 percent increase from the same period a year before, according to data collected by IRI, which tracks retail sales based on the bar codes on products. (Prices have been quite stable over that time.) Only hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and the like have seen substantially bigger sales boosts.
The modern notion that TP is essential was created by the companies that first sold Americans on using the product in the 1940s.
“They had to convince people to use it,” he said. “They had an enormous ad campaign that terrified women, with surgeons with gloves and scalpels saying, ‘It’s a pity she didn’t buy her husband proper toilet paper.’”