Toilet Paper Shortage? It’s Complicated…

Toilet paper is the basic necessity and definitive product that exemplifies our frustration with pandemic shortages. We’re all left wondering, where did it go, why did it go, and when will it be back on the shelves?

The ongoing shortage isn’t entirely because of people hoarding it. There are major problems in the supply chain, and demand is way up.

American companies have been disrupted by the overseas supply chain, primarily from China, and are short of raw materials or finished products. Delays overseas are creating a domino effect here in America.

Suppliers like Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific have plans in place to increase production and reallocate inventory to help meet needs here, but admit that “timing is uncertain” as to when shelves will once again be fully stocked with TP.

“We are working hard to maximize the number of deliveries we can load and ship out of our facilities; you can just load and unload so fast,” a spokesperson told The Goods, adding that the company’s mills and distribution centers have increased 20 percent from normal capacity. “We are also working with customers to have direct shipments when possible to reduce distribution time.”

Grocers, big box retailers and online sources alike have suffered temporary outages of inventory, even when placing limits on purchases.

Collectively, we probably still use the same amount of toilet paper as we did before the pandemic, but suddenly, we’re expected to use more of our own supply. Most people are no longer eating out at restaurants or going to work or school — places where we conveniently use the restroom and the available toilet paper. Georgia-Pacific estimates that the average American household will use about 40 percent more toilet paper than usual if people spend all their time at home.

The toilet paper market is divided between consumer and commercial — those large rolls of thin toilet paper you find in public restrooms. While most commercial buyers are needing less, the individual consumer need for home use has increased significantly.

Suppliers need to shift gears to focus on home users, but the task is not simple.

“Shifting to retail channels would require new relationships and contracts between suppliers, distributors, and stores; different formats for packaging and shipping; new trucking routes — all for a bulky product with lean profit margins.” 

When there is no timeline for stay at home orders, manufacturers don’t have the flexibility to adjust their production capabilities, and it’s been reported that most TP mills were operating 24-hours even before the coronavirus crisis. It’s likely that TP will remain hard to stock until stay at home orders are relaxed.

If you are desperately low, you can consider the option of ordering commercial-grade TP online, while some restaurants have been selling goods like paper products and other kitchen staples. There is probably plenty of TP to go around, but it may not be the soft variety you are used to in the home.

This story was at Vox.