The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020

All credit to this post goes to Will Oremus and his story ‘What everyone’s getting wrong about the toilet paper shortage’.

Am I really going to talk about toilet paper? YES. Yes, I am. As mentioned on this blog last week, Economics is a passion of mine. And this, having a lot to do with economics, is something I find interesting.


If you’ve been living on planet earth at all during the past month, you’ll likely have noticed a distinct lack of toilet paper… everywhere. First it was being written off as panic buying. Photos circulated the web of people purchasing hundreds of rolls of toilet paper at a time, and bragging about it to their social media profiles. Others got caught in viral videos fighting over it in grocery store aisles. If you weren’t quick to run to the store, you might not have even found it at all.

Leaders and celebrities, people of influence and grocery store owners encouraged everyone to calm down, stop panic buying and start thinking rationally. Store after store after store promised there was no issue with the supply chain and there wasn’t a shortage, ‘we just weren’t prepared for the entire country to go out and panic buy hundreds of rolls at a time’.

This didn’t just happen here in Canada, it seemed to be happening across the world. For weeks jokes have been flying that ‘corona virus doesn’t give you diarrhea’ and though the large-scale panic buying mania has largely subsided, the toilet paper aisle is still bare.

Why?

The other aisles have been restocked. And, in a lot of cases other aisles have been restocked two or three times over at this point. But somehow, even with limits of how much someone can purchase, the toilet paper aisle is still empty.

The fact of the matter is, panic buying aside, COVID-19 has created an increase in demand for toilet paper. It is… somewhat of an essential in most homes in 2020 around the world. Could we live without it? Probably. Do we want to live without it? No.

Think back to a pre-COVID world. Times were calm. Large chunks of the population were in school or at work for 6-12 hours (or more) a day. And even after they returned home, they might opt to go out for dinner. Take their kids to hockey practice, or have some sort of an event that would keep them out of their home for even longer during the day.

The ‘residential’ toilet paper supply chain is built to work 24 hours a day, 7 days per week to produce precisely what was needed pre-COVID. The residential toilet paper supply chain is not built to function for the high demand of most of the world staying home 24 hours a day, 7 days of the week.

People aren’t going to the bathroom more now than pre-COVID. What has changed is that people are going to the bathroom more at home.

In his piece, Oremus explains that there are two distinct supply chains for toilet paper. Manufacturing plants that make the toilet paper that winds up in our grocery stores are not the same manufacturing plants that create the toilet paper that winds up in schools, in office washrooms, in the mall washrooms, and so on and so forth. For instance, Charmin is making toilet paper for the home but they are not in the business of making the large scale, industrial style single-ply toilet paper you find in public washrooms. They’re different products, made from different materials in different assembly lines in different manufacturing plants.

So, as we around the world are seeing empty shelves, still, when we wander the toilet paper aisle in our local grocery stores, there’s a large subsection of the economy that could very well have a surplus of toilet paper sitting around in storage closets and warehouses. This is because the ‘commercial’ toilet paper supply chain doesn’t need to supply commercial businesses and public facilities with toilet paper when these businesses and facilities aren’t open and people are staying home.

As of today, April 7th 2020, the residential supply chain for toilet paper is not meeting demand the commercial supply chain for toilet paper doesn’t seem to have a demand.

What’s the answer?

There isn’t really one.

Toilet paper is a relatively value-less product from a manufacturing standpoint. From the manufacturing perspective you make it, you ship it to the grocery store and then you make more. You don’t make heaps of it at a time to create massive stockpiles for times of higher demand because firstly, it is not going to bring any extra value to your company, and secondly it has a shelf life.

I know that’s a weird concept to think about, toilet paper having a shelf life, but overtime toilet paper does break down.

Essentially, if you’re Charmin or Royale or any of the big players… or even the small players, it’s not going to serve the company well to create more than what demand requires.

Are Charmin or Royale or any of the players in the toilet paper manufacturing industry going to up their game or double production for the foreseeable future? Maybe. Some might try. But there is a possibility that they don’t bother. COVID-19 doesn’t come with a ‘this is how long you have’ notification. From a business perspective, there are countries already ready and trying to open back up their schools, economies and lives. It’s a very real possibility that a lot of these companies continue producing for the demand they’ve always been producing for, forcing society to adjust.

If any company does try to adjust to meet this new demand in grocery stores then in two, three or four months time they could be out a considerable loss when the world rebounds and starts going back to work and school and hockey practice. They’ll have a hyper productive assembly line to create for demands that are no longer there. Which is taking a massive gamble on a relatively worthless product in a very unstable world.

Are the commercial manufacturers going to switch their production to create the stuff sold in grocery stores? No. Bottom line, they don’t have the infrastructure, the machinery, or the supply chain opportunities to do so. They also don’t have the relationships with grocery stores to sell their products and put their products on shelves.

Could you get your hands on some of the commercial product for your home? Possibly. If you’re savvy or have business connections. If you’re a regular joe like the most of us, it might be difficult. You might have better luck just phoning the store before you go to ask when their toilet paper is being restocked.

Bottom line, Oremus summed up pretty nicely nearing the end of his piece:

If there’s any good news, it’s that we can stop blaming these shortages on the alleged idiocy of our fellow consumers. 

Will Oremus, Marker

This shortage of toilet paper could go on for months. While panic buying might have started the shortage, increase in demand is what has kept this shortage going.

You will see shelves restocked and new product making it through the supply chain during that time. But, there is a very real possibility the shelves will be restocked only to be emptied again and again and again. The increase in demand will be difficult to meet in the current COVID world.

What a year it’s been so far. Had you told me three months ago that toilet paper would simultaneously be one of the most worthless and most valuable products available on the market, I’d have probably laughed in your face.

I just know this shortage is going to wind up in a textbook eventually. Economic professors everywhere are already planning it.


If anyone has read this, I strongly recommend reading What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage by Will Oremus. Not only does he explain it a lot more professionally than I do, he mentions some other supply chains that will likely see disruptions over the next few months.

When you know enough to know that you just don’t know.

The key to true wisdom is acknowledging how little you know. I knew a lot more about everything at the age of eighteen than I do now. Is that true? Not really. But I thought that I knew more and no one could have told me otherwise. Now I’m able to acknowledge the extent of the world that I simply don’t understand, can’t understand or have yet to learn.

It’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with not knowing. Sometimes people treat lack of knowledge as though shameful thing. I think it takes a certain amount of confidence and strength to be willing to acknowledge that you don’t know something. You also need to be willing to learn though. Perhaps the shame in not knowing is actually a shame in being unwilling to know and people merely miscalculate reaction timing? I know enough to know that I just don’t know.

Please don’t be rude.

I’ve been thinking…

There is no reason, rhyme or explanation as to why anyone should be leaving a rude or mean comment on someone’s blog. You can be open, honest and respectful towards someone that you completely disagree with in every sense of your being and maintain a completely cordial discourse, interaction or relationship.

And yes, there is a way of perhaps letting someone know they might be wrong whilst still being polite about it. So if you disagree with someone and would like to share your perspective, be polite. Don’t be an asshole.

Please don’t be an asshole. If you read a blog post and you get the urge to leave a rude comment or to be mean to the person who wrote the post, just move on. Your comment is not going to serve any positive purpose. You’re not going to open any discussion, change any minds or allow them to see another perspective if you’re being an asshole.

1:30 am thoughts

I had thoughts, but honestly, quarantine brain is getting the better of me. I’m feeling disconnected from the people that matter most to me and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it in this time. I’m insecure and second guessing every decision I’ve been making.

I feel like this is a really accurate depiction of life right now. What people look like on the outside versus how they feel on the inside. Because I know I’m not the only one going crazy with this self-quarantine.

The warning label says what?

For adults only. Do not use if you are: pregnant, nursing or are of childbearing age.

So…

This product is for adult men and menopausal/post-menopausal women? That’s a very bold statement to make ‘of childbearing age’.

For a product that seems to predominantly be marketed towards women (pink packaging, silhouette of a ‘beautiful woman’ on the label) this seems like a huge catch that really ought to be a lager disclaimer on the container.

Note – I’m not saying that men can’t, or don’t, purchase goods in pink packaging. I’m just suggesting that, due to the label being pink and having a woman on it, their target audience might be women.

It’s so damn important to read the labels before you purchase a product.

I am trying to decide if I can take this and it’ll be harmless, or if I should return it to the store because I’ll be risking a heart attack (or infertility?) if I do not. Being of child-bearing age for another 15-20 years, this might not be a good product for me?

Misleading marketing at its finest. And I fell for it. Hook, line and sinker.

Emails that brighten my spirits.

As some of you may know, from time to time I will have one-on-one chats with fellow bloggers to try and give them some extra tips and tricks to the trade in hopes that it’ll help them in their blogging journey.

I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel when they send me notes about just how excited they are when they make improvements and good things happen for them!

A couple of weeks back I got an email from a fellow blogger that I have previously worked with and she was expressing her excitement that, for the first time ever, her blog hit 100 views in 24 hours. I was excited to hear her excitement, but I was also excited for her because I know what a talented blogger she is and I also know what an interesting person she is. She has a lot to share with this world and a lot of value to bring, and I know that as people continue to find her blog, they’ll see in her everything that I see in her.

This afternoon I got an email from a fellow blogger that I have previously worked with and he was expressing his excitement that his blog has reached 200 followers and the interaction he’s receiving on his posts is increasing daily. I was elated to hear his excitement, but I was also excited for him because, after so many years of pouring his heart and soul into his written work, his blog and sharing his story, people are really starting to find him and resonate with what he shares and who he is.

It makes me happy to see fellow bloggers finding success and being appreciated for what they do and the content they create. I feel a great sense of pride in myself when people ask me for advice, and I am grateful that people trust me enough seek help from me. But, more importantly, I feel a great sense of pride in seeing these bloggers succeed. Because, the bottom line is, there success is because of them, not me. All I did was remind them of what they’re capable of.

Digital marketing can sometimes seem silly, but I promise you that if you really take the time and effort to pay attention to the small things, it’ll make a world of difference in your blogging journey. If you’re ever feeling disheartened, burnt out, or you’re just plain struggling with your blog, remember this: success is not a limited resource. There’s room for every blogger at the top, so keep focused. Your time will come!

1:46 AM

The only thing that I want in this world right now is for you to reach your arm across the bed to wrap around me, feel you kiss me on the shoulder and to hear you continue, ever so effortlessly, snoring in my ear.

You never know just how much listening to someone snore can mean to you until you’re falling asleep alone. It’s the simple things in life…

Everybody’s got an opinion

If your opinion doesn’t align with mine, that is completely okay. There’s no need to fight, there’s no need to be rude, there’s no need for name calling. We can agree to disagree. Plenty of people disagree with me for plenty of different reasons and I still have a great deal of respect for all of them. I cannot and will not respect you, however, if your inclination is to start ‘throwing stones’ so to speak, solely because we disagree.

My standing up for myself is not my fighting with you, it’s my standing up for myself. Period. I’m not attacking you, I’m simply stating my opinions. You had your chance, why shouldn’t I have my chance? There’s no callous nature behind it, I am simply trying to share my side.

I want to get to a place in society where we can agree to disagree and still be kind to, and show respect to one another.

The perk of being anonymous.

I get asked A LOT as to why there’s no face to my blog. Would you believe me if I said that I’m shy? Because I am. But, more importantly than that, I choose to be anonymous because it allows my blog to be about me, not about what I look like.

Why am I anonymous? Because I want to be.

It’s 2020 and, as much as the world has evolved, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to judgmental folk.. People place a lot of value on the way that you look. Yes, you. You, me, the man across the street. We all get judged based on our appearance. So, the thing about nobody knowing what I look like gives to me is an ability to know that I’m being judged for who I am, not what I look like.

It’s freeing.

If someone likes me, they like me for my outlook, personality and how I treat others, not because of what I look like. And, if someone doesn’t like me, they don’t like me because they don’t like my outlook, personality or how I treat others, not because of what I look like.

I can’t stress enough what a cool feeling that is.

As someone who’s spent the majority of her life being judged for her appearance, it’s a nice feeling to get judged for who I am, not what I look like.

Honestly, you can imagine me whatever way that you want to. Whether you think I am the 31 year old female I’ve told you that I am, or you think that I’m a 65 year old man who hoards butter-finger wrappers in a fish bowl (shout out to anyone who watches ‘2 Broke Girls’), that’s okay. The perk to being anonymous is that I can be whoever you want me to be, whoever you envision me to be and it just doesn’t matter.

I like being anonymous. I am shy. I am an introvert. Pouring my heart out to the internet gives me solace in a world where those that know me don’t really know much more than what’s on the outside.

Being anonymous has allowed me to feel the most like myself.