It has been more than a month since stores ran out of toilet paper. But every time I visit a grocery store, I still see empty shelves down the paper aisle.
First, I want to make this clear: I have plenty of toilet paper. I’m not running low.
I’m not even looking to buy more.
I have a certain stomach issue that taught me many, many years ago not to ever run low on that particular commodity.
But when I’ve visited a grocery store over the past six or seven weeks, the paper products aisle remained cleaned out. A few stores had a few packs of paper towel rolls. (I have a full pack of paper towels, too.)
Toilet paper remains a missing item from stores.
Why is that, exactly?
About six or seven weeks ago, when people first began to understand this pandemic might actually force some changes, some began hoarding the stuff. I’ve never seen shelves this empty even when a hurricane has approached. And from those initial days, no one listed diarrhea as a symptom of COVID-19.
Of all things to run out of, why was toilet paper the number one item to go scarce?
Over the past month, stores began posting buying limits — 2 packs per customer, maximum — on the aisles. If they ever stocked it, even those limits weren’t enough to keep a supply in the store.
So what’s the problem here?
Forbes recently ran a story with the headline, “Here’s why the toilet paper shortage is only temporary.” Maybe the extreme shortage made some consider the possibility that they’ll never see the stuff again. Most people I know, however, assumed the shortage was temporary.
The biggest mystery I wonder about is the timing: After this many weeks, you should be able to find at least a little of it.
That Forbes article points out a couple of salient points. One of them is that the makers of our toilet paper manufacture their product here in the United States. So we’re not waiting for overseas shipments.
Another fact mentioned in the article is one manufacturer, Proctor & Gamble, says it’s making more at record levels.
So production is up and we’re not waiting for overseas shipments.
Yet there are plenty of stores that still can’t get enough toilet paper to stock shelves.
The other day, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution helped explain part of the mystery. It reported there are two lines of toilet paper produced: one for commercial use and one for homes. The type manufactured for homes requires higher quality ingredients that take longer to get; that, coupled with an estimated 140% increase average daily use caused by people staying at home, left suppliers struggling to keep up with the outrageous demand.
You can thank the hoarders — but you already knew that.
Only one thing is clear so far: no one knows when the shelves will be full again.
I hope you have a good supply to last a while. You may need it.