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The Great Toilet Paper Scare of 1973 (2014) (priceonomics.com)
183 points by luu 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 208 comments

The old story about John Draper calling up Richard Nixon and warning him about a toilet paper crisis in LA is beginning to make a lot more sense, now...


>The legendary antics of phone phreaks in the 70s are as numerous as they are unverifiable. There's the story of a couple of phreaks — of which one was allegedly Draper — who called up the White House, dropped President Nixon's secret codename 'Olympus' and were soon put through to the President himself — only to tell him of a 'national emergency' that was occurring because Los Angeles had run out of toilet paper.


>We had the code word that would summon Nixon to the phone. Almost immediately, another person was starting the process of dialing the number. I stopped them just in time and recommended that they stack at least 4 tandems before looping the call to the White house. Sure enough, the man at the other end said "9337", my other friend said "Olympus please!", the man at the other end said "One moment sir!"... About a minute later, a man that sounded remarkably like Nixon said "What's going on?". My friend said "We have a crisis here in Los Angeles!", Nixon said "What's the nature of the crisis?", My friend said in a serious tone of voice "We're out of toilet paper sir!". Nixon said "WHO IS THIS?" My friend then hung up. Never did learn what happened to that tape, but I think this was one of the funniest pranks, and I don't think that Woz would even come close to this one. I think he was jealous for a long time.

>To the best of my recollection, this was about 4 months before Nixon resigned because of the Watergate crisis.

I think with some preparation he could have taken it a bit further, the hanging up came too fast.

The run on toilet paper started here (San Francisco Bay area) a week ago when the shelter-in-place order was announced. I figured I'd wait for stores to be restocked, since by then all the hoarders wouldn't need to go out an buy more. But I went out yesterday and the TP shelves were still empty. No pasta either. Canned tomatoes and coconut milk (which we cook with a lot in our house) are all gone too.

Happily, we were reasonably well stocked before this all hit the fan, but I'm a little surprised to still see empty shelves after a week. How long does it typically take to restock non-perishables?

Here in Australia, one of the major supermarket chains (Coles) made a statement about this. They said their biggest week of the year is the Christmas week. They spend 6 months preparing for this. Each of the last 3 weeks has essentially been a Christmas shopping week. That's the scale of the problem.

We have enough food and supplies. We have the distribution to get it to stores. We have the capability to sell it in store. The only scarcity we have is because of the hoarders. That hoarding and resulting scarcity is creating more hoarders.

It's textbook illusion of scarcity.

The secondary hoarders-- those who hoard because others have hoarded-- are in some ways behaving rationally too: Try to buy your normal rate of toilet paper and find it gone; then you search and search; when you finally find some you don't know when you might do so again, so you need to buy extra.

It doesn't seem like a problem that will be solved until, gradually, everyone has plenty and most stores are stocked. That seems to be how things abated in 1973, over a few months.

The rational way to behave is to not live roll to roll, so to speak. A well stocked pantry won't have trouble in a scare because... well it will have stock.

Few things suck so much time away as having to go out for X because you've run out.

In other news I've got fourteen pounds of beans if anybody wants any.

> The rational way to behave is to not live roll to roll, so to speak. A well stocked pantry won't have trouble in a scare because... well it will have stock.

Just-in-time manufacturing succeeded because supply chains became reliable enough that factories didn't need their own stockpiles. If you're out in the country and you have a big pantry then sure, stock up, but those of us living in the city may not have space. And even if you do have space, if everyone realises they have no stock and decides to buy up a month's supply, that has pretty much the same practical impact as hoarding.

"Hoarding" is just a smear word on building an emergency buffer just-in-time. Or, JIT supply chains extend all the way to end-consumer, so let's not act surprised that a spike in demand due to perceived risk increase breaks everything up the chain. This should've been conpensated for in the chain.

no, "hoarding" in this sense isn't a smear word on a buffer, it's buying 4/5/6x your normal buffer, to the point that people who haven't hoarded are now starting to be left without. I have a 48sqm apartment with 2 adults and a dog. we only _just_ have enough space for 3 weeks worth of all supplies. we're now running low on the things that people started panic buying a month ago, because of hoarding, not because of buffering.

> I have a 48sqm apartment with 2 adults and a dog. we only _just_ have enough space for 3 weeks worth of all supplies

I have a 44sqm apartment with 2 adults, an infant and a cat, and we've managed to fit a month's worth of supplies in a single wardrobe. I don't think space is a problem (weight is, OTOH).

Suddenly stocking to up to 6 months of everything? That's hoarding. Building a month's worth? That's a minimum if you want to stay safe in case you and your family get quarantined, and your normal buffer should be around that anyway, regardless of the pandemic.

If everyone who didn't have a stash before is suddenly stocking up for a months supply of everything, you get shortages. The right way to build up your supplies is slowly over time.

Indeed FEMA is now asking that folks only buy a weeks worth of groceries: https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/03/23/coronavirus-new-guide...

Over here in Germany the recommendation has always been to have supplies for 10-14 days at home. Seems like a more reasonable number than a months worth - especially for city dwellers.

That's indeed the right solution. But it needs to be enforced by the stores - as many do now, with per-customer purchase limits.

> the recommendation has always been to have supplies for 10-14 days at home. Seems like a more reasonable number than a months worth - especially for city dwellers.

That's a nice recommendation for a calm time, but a bit short for the pandemic. If you get quarantined, you need to stay put for 14-21 days. Add a bit of padding to account for undersupplied stores (and to add a margin for error), and you arrive at 1 month's worth.

We've seen this coming since at least early February. That's exactly when I started stocking up, buying ~2x amounts of non-perishables (e.g. 2 packages of pasta) instead of waiting for the impending hoarder shitstorm at the very last minute. I forget where I read this recommendation (WHO?), but it has definitely paid off, I haven't been to the store in almost 2 weeks :)

That assumes you have absolutely zero access to groceries for those 14-21 days. But there are still delivery services and neighbors. In Germany, city governments have actually delivered food to those quarantined.

I'd say that's a safe assumption to make. On top of that, even contactless delivery by via service or neighbour has nonzero risk of communicating the disease (in either direction), so it's worth minimizing the need for it.

Interesting. Here in Norway the recommendation has been to keep supplies for 3 days, including water, power supplies (battery banks), a radio with full batteries, heating and cooking possibilities and so on.

I agree with you. People have been hating so much on hoarders, while not acknowledging that the real problem is that people are way too reliant on a just-in-time supply chain. It's really not that difficult, expensive, or space-consuming to have a buffer of at least one month for scenarios like this. Yet, most people don't build up this buffer over time, out of laziness, and then they go around blaming others for the shortages during a crisis (or they go panic-hoarding themselves).

I used to go to work every weekday, and eat 2 meals there. Now I'm at home 24/7, so I'm already eating 5x the amount (before this, I would barely eat at home). Also, my girlfriend is here with me. I used to have a many months' worth of stock in the pantry, but now it turns out that it's just enough for two weeks.

Having a buffer is fine, but only starting to build up your buffer when everybody else does so as well is not. Everyone could've kept a month's supply of toilet paper on hand already. We've had an emergency supply of food and water (should last about a week?) for a couple of months now. I mean a few years ago we had months of drought, the tap never stopped but in some areas pressure was reduced, so it can happen to anyone.

My complaint is that I see people screaming "hoardres" where what really happens is someone buying an extra day's or two worth of supplies, and/or are buying for themselves and the extended family. Maybe things have changed now, but around me, most ruckus about hoarding was made by people who thought COVID-19 is just a flu and were inconvenienced by queues. People who couldn't understand that you need a buffer.

perhaps correctly a smear word, since you should have built your buffer up ahead of time?

Well, if the Lean methodology is so great for the entire supply chain, why it suddenly shouldn't be applied to the last link - the consumer? Building up a buffer is against just-in-time principle :P.

(The truth is, JIT supply chains simply aren't designed to survive events like a global pandemic. They're control systems overtuned to extract the last bits of efficiency from trade, and fall into bad oscillations when disruptions happen. As we can see today.)

> In other news I've got fourteen pounds of beans if anybody wants any.

Let your neighbors know, and be sure to tell them that there is no condition to wanting to eat them. Many people are going to go more hungry in the coming weeks or months, and helping those around us is one of the best ways to apply surplus.

the rational way to live is to live in a big enough domicile that you can have reliably stocked up with 3 weeks of what you need of any item at all times.

but maybe our world is not structured for maximal rationality.

Personally I think 640 sheets is enough for anyone, however, rationality isn't rational at the moment.

Since The Thing is exponential there is a worst-case-scenario that everyone on the entire planet will have it by the middle of May, if not before.

So correctly assuming that you are the last person to get it, then you will need eight rolls of bathroom tissue. This will see you through to the calamity and through two weeks of self isolation to either recover or die.

If living in a house of two adults with two point two children, one dog and two cats, then you are going to need four of those nine roll packs to see The Thing through.

This has some contingency for problems of localised flooding in your bathroom, a stomach bug or children that are secretly selling your supplies.

Plus this allows for extra supplies in case vulnerable locked-down Baby Boomers run out in your neighbourhood and need the folding stuff.

Given that the hoarding mentality is growing at an exponential rate and that every tree on the planet could be cut down for bathroom tissue in a month's time, the people buying dozens of rolls are arguably behaving in a rational manner.

> A well stocked pantry

Most ordinary people don’t have the luxury of a house with a pantry. And many people can only afford what they need each week so can’t stock up even if they had somewhere to store it.

"Pantry" being a metaphor for whatever you have stored away, not a physical room. Regardless of your income unless it is extremely low or you are unemployed, whether or not you live paycheck to paycheck is a function of your decisions, not of your income. You will, in fact, have a considerably larger amount of money to spend, if you don't waste it on small volume frequent purchases.

There simply would’ve been no place to put bulk toilet paper in my 600/700 sq foot one bedroom in Seattle. Lots of people live in even smaller spaces.

I’ve lived this small and you get clever. I put things in storage under my bed, in my bookshelf, and in boxes in my closet. Worst case, I would just stack them in the open or on counters, behind the sink, and on window ledges

Whether or not you have a purpose built pantry is mostly just a reflection of the age of the building you live in.

A lot of bottom dollar apartments wind up having unintentional pantries because they wind up dividing a floor of an existing building in such a way that you wind up with a closet in the kitchen.

I also think there are now a couple of new factors affecting it. With people staying at home, the demand of toilet paper has shifted to the home more. People might be limiting their trips to the shop and are bulk buying more. But I agree the hoarding is still creating a shortage of toilet paper (and pasta, meat etc). It will be good when people have enough and we see things stocked on the shelves like normal. Although with potential businesses closing or enforced self isolation, I can't see the shelves looking normal for a while. Been a run on bottle shops, Bunnings etc as well.

It's been interesting to see what gets sold out, there is still plenty of canned tuna etc, but no lemon juice (but there is lime juice). Didn't realise people used lemon juice so much.

> With people staying at home, the demand of toilet paper has shifted to the home more.

This. TP consumption is unchanged per day. But the proportion of consumed TP that is consumed at retail must be up 30-50%. Nearly nobody is using their work/school/restaurant's TP that comes in giant rolls or in a cardboard box without a UPC code.

Same for tomato sauce: Most people don't want the 10# cans that food-service used to buy. Or the barrels that a pizza shop would buy. Grocery stores probably don't have a SKU for those. Could be a different packaging factory entirely.

A local restaurant has been offering a roll of TP per take out order. I thought it was a nice gesture but hadn’t considered that it reflects this shift in demand from businesses to homes.

Yeah, I'm guessing that while it's for marketing value, they're not buying that TP - the source is their own stock which they can't use now that the venue itself is closed.

In Australia here too.

Supermarkets have introduced limits on the number of toilet roll packets you can buy (which is sensible).

However, last weekend I was at the supermarket when it opened, and I observed something I haven't seen noted elsewhere.

Manufactures seem only to be shipping enormous packages of toilet paper (24 packs). This means people buy 1 packet of 24 rolls, because that is all that is available. These huge packets also take more shelf space, which results in more shortages.

Some smaller, independent supermarkets have taken to re-packaging the rolls into smaller packets, which is a win/win for both the shop and the consumer.

But the manufacturer behaviour is interesting and unfortunate.

I think most people are happy to buy a 24 pack at the moment (and would probably buy multiples of smaller packs otherwise), and it's probably easier to distribute only 24-packs than a mix of sizes. I'm all for manufacturers prioritising throughput over convenience for the duration of the crisis.

Except that means that less households get supply, which forces them into more extreme measures.

People are happy to buy anything at the moment. Making sure each household can get supply seems like it should be a priority.

You're assuming people don't split with friends downstream.

Not really.

I think that happens, but from observation it's a downstream event usually in reaction to shortages one of the friends is having.

There's another side to this. I've seen footage of this on the news. People will buy their per customer limits, throw it into their cars and queue up again. Rinse and repeat. The footage I saw of this was toilet paper. Some people.

Costco does similar limitz I wish they used member id as the limit, not the checkout Id...

Manufacturing output is already at 100%. They don't have much more capacity to add and TP is already cheap and fast to produce.

What they're doing is shifting production to focus on large bulk sizes and more TP instead of other paper items.

We were lucky to have bought a 6-pack of triple-length rolls of TP right before the drought hit, but it's been a few weeks not and every time I've been to the shop the TP shelves have been bare.

A checkout girl told me they restock overnight and every day it's gone within two hours of opening (although that was before they brought in the dedicated AM shopping hour for the seniors/disabled to get their supplies).

Great point — also this season is the nadir of retailing. Everyone is broke from Christmas until March/April and companies shit their lines down to start making new product.

>shit their lines down

I'm not sure if that was meant to be a deliberate pun or just a fortuitous typo, but it fits here.

Definitely a typo. My apologies.

No it doesn't

What I found interesting was as the run on toilet paper began, people in my office started to spread the good word about bidets, and then a couple of days later, sure enough, those were selling out on Amazon.

Which is amazing because bidets are very far from being a thing in the US.

Panic buying seems to transfer easily to many products-- now that a quinine-related drug had some good press as a potential treatment, I can't find tonic water anywhere (except some really weird brands at like $12 for 4 small cans or bottles... Apparantly a gin boom has given rise to some niche high end tonic water too)

I noticed that ginger and turmeric became totally unavailable in Ireland two weeks ago (which was when the government started telling people to work from home if possible and introducing restrictions). I suspect because people have been claiming (incorrectly) that they help with coronavirus. They're back now, but it really doesn't take much change in consumer behaviour to cause shortages.

Sucks for people whose favorite cocktail (much needed in these times) is a gin and tonic. Especially because the niche high end tonic waters are usually rubbish for a G&T. Luckily I've got a bag of cinchona bark i've been meaning to make tonic out of for a year or so now...

Does tonic water even have a theraputic dose of quinine anymore?

It's a therapeutic dose of gin that people really need right now.

Depending on your state, liquor stores may or may not be classified as essential businesses exempt from the mandatory lockdown.

> Does tonic water even have a theraputic dose of quinine anymore?

It never did. It's poorly soluble in water, that's what the gin was for. If it's not pre-mixed, your tonic water has a negligible amount of quinine.

So if I was going to make an authentic, “Englishman wearing a pith helmet and trying not to get malaria”-style gin and tonic, how would I go about that?

Also, I thought the gin was for making the tonic water palatable. The tonic water I’ve had is pretty awful by itself and the gin definitely brings something to the table in terms of moderating the flavor. I have to imagine that any tonic that actually worked would taste even worse.

I think limited to 20mg per 12 oz now, so way too little for malaria treatment I think. Maybe it has some preventative effect at that dose?

There's probably not much of a stockpile for those in the first place. They would sell out quickly on any increased demand.

The Google Trends chart for "bidet" seems to reflect this as well: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?q=bidet&geo=US

In a bind, you can cobble an emergency bidet / ass wash together from a bottle of water with a hole in the cap.

Or jump in the shower.

*walk-in bidet

This is just speculation, but I think people are continuing to overbuy toilet paper in fear of a further shortage. So it's a kind of vicious circle. Consumers are afraid toilet paper will be unavailable, because consumers keep buying up all the available toilet paper as soon as it hits the shelves.

If everyone bought the normal amount we'd be fine... Except the high risk and elderly, who should restrict their movement even more carefully and not go shopping as much, and so actually need a deeper stock of TP (and other normal grocery items)

Why is it that only those at highest risk of dying should be the only not taking risks shopping? It as not as if shopping is any safer than any other activity, it is just necessary. Would it not be better for everyone if shopping was done once a month now (or some other longer period than normal), even for those with lower mortality rates? The word hoarding is thrown around a lot now without any specific numbers. Angela Merkel was seen buying 4 bottles of wine and one roll of toilet paper (which seems a low example to set). How many rolls is too much? Or more generally how much time is too much time to be prepared for without exposure to outside your household? I am not planning for the Apocalypse, but certainly want at least a month's supplies on hand to enable physical distancing to be more effective.

How many people are in your house? My family of 3 goes though about 1 roll per person in a week, and we aren’t super conservative about it, so a 12-18 pack should last us a month. Personally, I think it’s the people buying 4 24 roll packs (or an equivalent number) at a time for the same size family that need to calm down.

I wish my household had normal TP usage. My fiancée and I both have Crohn’s disease, we probably average a bit more than a roll per day for just the two of us. On top of this we both take immunosuppressants, so we are at very high risk right now. We bought an industrial size pack from Sams Club when things started to get bad, but now we are on “don’t think about leaving the house any more than taking the dog out” levels on advice from our doctors, and that pack is depleting more quickly than I see this dissipating. We have a friend that works at Walmart back home and he is going to see if he can purchase some for us then ship ~1000mi as no one else obviously has any for shipping

Don't go out of house for toilet paper! Just use shower. It sucks. But struggling to breath sucks more.

Have you considered a bidet?

Others with the disease strongly recommend them.

I don’t mind it, but my SO could never get used to it. We may be revisiting them soon though, thanks

>people buying 4 24 roll packs

While these are very visible events, do they actually have a significant contribution on the shortage compared to all the other shoppers having a slight increase in desire to buy toilet paper. It is possible even the visibility of the panic buyers loading up as much as possible has more of an impact than their actual purchase. Take someone who buys 8 of those mega packs. Plenty right. But the picture going around might convince hundreds that they should pick up a single pack when otherwise they would have waited until their existing stock was lower before restocking.

I'm guessing only someone with access to the actual store records would be able to pull a report to clarify one way or the other.

For example here, a large rice "manufacturer" (distributor?) at normal times has pre-orders from asia for deliveries 3 months in advance for typical amounts that are sold. If people start buying at 5-10x the normal rate, it will deplete the current stock quickly and it will take time to ramp up the deliveries and packaging. Also intermediate storage facilities and silos/packaging lines are not inflatable. So it's not all that easy to ramp up distribution 3x.

In most if the world there had been a reduction in grain storage capacity, and may stores were knocked down and repurposed. We optimised into 'Just-in-time' supply chain so hard, there is no slack in the system to handle a crysis, it's too fragile.

> a large rice "manufacturer" (distributor?)

Both concepts would seem to apply, and to be different people, but a rice manufacturer would usually be called a farmer.

Eh, nearly all rice that people buy is post-processed to various degrees (brown rice has the outer husk removed, white rice also has an inner layer removed), so manufacturing capacity is also a real concern.

Most rice farmers don't order their rice delivered from a different continent.

Well, they might, but they wouldn't be reselling rice they'd ordered. That would tend to defeat the idea of making your own rice.

More relevantly, it's not at all implausible for a farming operation to be selling rice on another continent, and to schedule shipments several months in advance.

After a couple of weeks, toilet paper seems to be back with a vengeance in Irish supermarkets; there's heaps of the stuff. And canned tomatoes are back. The panic buyers seem to have given up on it, and have moved onto weirder targets. Based on my visit to Tesco last night, the new hoarding targets seem to be lightbulbs and chewing gum, for some reason.

Your supermarkets are probably restocking this stuff every day, and possibly multiple times a day, but it doesn't take much change in buying patterns to cause temporary shortages.

I am thinking some of it has to do with the fact that more people are buying groceries now (rather than eating out) and groceries that are staples rather than buying a wider variety of food (stuff that lasts, is easy to make and is packaged so it can be cleaned easily).

It started long before then, I'm sure.

Statewide Shelter In Place was, what, Thursday AM the.. 19th? Bay area was Monday the 16th? I've been working from home since the 6th. At least a week before the 6th, my wife made a Costco run to make sure we were topped up on non-perishable stuff, and bought another "case" of TP even though we had almost an entire full one on hand. (usually we buy it once we get below 50, because we don't go to Costco very often). That was the extent of our "stocking up", but I think it happened in late Feb, and we were almost immediately hearing of others doing the same in the region.

Costco lines have been a thing for weeks. Which I didn't get; I popped into my local grocery store a few times (granted, in the morning) the week of the 9th, and it was always quite well-stocked, even as I was hearing of lines and chaos at Costco.

Granted, I went back on the afternoon of the 14th or 15th and it looked like it had been ransacked :) but until then, I thought the strategy was JUST DON'T GO TO COSTCO.

People are price-optimizing, not distance-optimizing, so the most hit are the large markets, which are usually the cheapest.

Why is there a run on toilet paper? The supply chain isn’t disrupted. Even if it is and there is a shortage, what’s the big deal if you run out and have to poop before you shower? How about instead of buying 40 pounds of toilet paper now, taking some of that money and time at home and installing a bidet? I have a Toto and it’s the best, I will never not have a bidet in my home. Do you wipe peanut butter off a plate with a napkin or do you rinse it with water? It’s a world of difference and uses 95% less toilet paper.

You're 100% right. My toilet paper usage is 1-2 squares per trip.

I'm something of a bidet evangelist, even in non-invisible-war times. A coworker mentioned the other day that bidets had long shipping delays.

I just looked on Amazon. There are no prime options, some are out of stock + the model I have is priced at least 2-2.5x higher than when I bought it a year or so ago.

The run on bidets must have started around the same time as the run on TP.

Crazy lol, never in a million years would I have thought my Toto would appreciate in value far more than my stock account.

Because the shelves are empty, I'm guessing far more reasonable people are thinking to just pick up a single pack when they do see a store stocked. Just in case they miscounted the amount they have at home. But when you count the number of items of TP on the shelves and compare it to the number of families, there is a large mismatch. Far more families than TP. So even a minority of those families making the quite reasonable 'buy one just in case, not like it will go bad' decision will quickly leave a store bare, meaning the rest of the day is filled with shoppers seeing bare shelves and thinking 'next time I see some, I should grab one just in case'.

While there are some panic buyers who are buying far more than just 1, I wonder if they are making as much an impact as all the non-panic buyers who are just picking up one just in case.

Maybe not, I could be off on the impact, but it does seem reasonable at first glance and explains why even purchase limits can have a hard time combating TP shortages in the short term.

Wish I'd taken a picture, but I saw multiple people standing in ridiculous lines to buy 2+ huge packs (lasts my family of 8 a month) of toilet paper, 2+ packs of paper towels (lasts my family of 8 at least 2 months) and 4+ cases of water (we go through about 1 a week).

These people must not be regulars because they weren't using the scan and go app and were waiting in the huge lines for at least 30-40 minutes minimum. Many of them had nothing else in the carts.

I suspect I go through about 4 rolls of paper towels per day with a family of 14. Clearly you have a low per-person rate of usage.

Are you talking about normal paper towel rolls that are about an inch and a half from core to edge, or "super" rolls that are closer to double that size (and feel much denser). These are about the size of the bounty double rolls. I could go through several of the smaller cheaper rolls also.

It's a really rough estimate, but I mean something like the largest bounty rolls with normal density.

yes, we're frugal with paper towels.

My local shop seems to have had the presence of mind to order extra beforehand, they had a pallet of TP out and they had it on sale as well - but it was the smaller packet, so not the most economic anyway. Anyway that shop hasn't had a shortage as far as I know.

But yeah same, I would've expected things to have calmed down by now - how much toilet paper can people hoard? That's not even the main issue, we're still having problems finding fresh produce and meat and the like. I mean sure, some (like bread) can be explained by more people working from home (we like our lunch sandwiches), but people should still be eating dinner as normal.

The statistics are that grocery shops are seeing 35% more revenue, bigger even than around christmas.

But again, I hope things settle down a bit once people realize they can't physically cram more supplies into their house. After this I think we'll see a big decline in e.g. toilet paper because people have stocked up on so much.

In terms of grocery stores seeing more revenue, This is likely largely explained by a shift in spending of food dollars from restaurants to grocery stores. You go to work, you generally buy lunch somewhere, and people can't go out to eat anymore. Delivery still exists, but I wonder how they are doing- there is a general sense of fear around having people come to your house.

I would only actually cook maybe 1.5 meals a week at home before this- lunch was served at my job, Friday/Saturday we would go out to eat, I would cook on Sunday and snack on whatever during the week.

Interestingly enough, even at the height of this craze, the Asian markets were well-stocked.

Not sure about other countries in Asia, but here in Thailand every toilet has a sprayer next to it. You get a lot cleaner and use a lot less toilet paper. So no TP panic here. If I ever move back to the US I will definitely install one.

The way I understand it, they're talking about asian (super-)markets, not the marktes of Asia.

At least that's the way here in Germany. While flour, toilet paper, some sorts of canned food and random other stuff is sold out in most super markets, the small turkish shop down the street has everything in stock.

On just toilet paper, or everything? It looks like S.Korea has remained calm pretty much the whole way through.

I think GP means Asian supermarkets in the US, places like H-Mart.

Non-Asian people haven't been raiding them because a) they either never knew or simply forgot these stores even exist or b) because racists think they're more likely to catch covid from anything Asian.

Well let's hope sanity prevails in a few small pockets like that at least. This whole thing is bad enough without further avoidable problems.

I've heard some truckers on radio shows saying that it's typically a three day window between restocking a particular product type at any given grocery store. I've also heard the toilet paper manufacturers saying that there's no shortage in supply. However, from what I'm seeing in my area and hearing of in other areas, either the truckers or the manufacturers (or both) are incorrect.

It took about a week for retailers in the midwestern US to restock and put buying limits in place on TP and staple foods. The buying limits (i.e. limit 2 packages of 12 rolls of TP) were pretty sensible, and for the most part, solved the problem here. It was surreal seeing 1/2 empty shelves at grocery stores, though.

The limits on staple foods are hitting me hard. There is no adjustment for family size. I have 12 kids.

I grabbed all the sliced mild cheddar cheese, which was only about ten half-pound packages. We could go through that in 3 to 10 days, depending on what people feel like eating. The cashier took away all but two packages. I don't even have enough to make toasted cheese sandwiches for my family.

I was planning to buy 6 gallons of milk, which is pretty normal for me. It might last 2 days at my house, so it really isn't much. The limit was just 2 gallons! This means I have to keep going back to the store, sometimes more than once per day, risking virus exposure each time. I managed a small violation by putting two gallons on the checkout conveyor belt and then, a full cart and hundreds of dollars latter, two more gallons. The argument over cheese probably helped the cashier to forget the 2 gallons already bagged.

Fortunately, there didn't seem to be any limits aside from dairy and bread. I got a couple large whole turkeys (each good for one meal plus a bit for soup), a whole chicken (lunch), and a large pork roast. I got a 19-pound jackfruit.

Buy and install one of those hand faucets. It's cleaner anyways and you'd need way less toilet paper (pretty much only used to make sure everything is clean and to dry a bit): https://www.amazon.in/b?ie=UTF8&node=10079354031

If you stop eating junk food, you only need a make sure everything is clean and wipe a bit.

They are restocking quite frequently but most stores sell out almost immediately after opening in the morning.

My guess is that TP is low margin for the volume it takes on the truck. Better to ship over canned goods or cleaning wipes.

Now all of the Diet Coke is being hoarded too. Hoarding has finally gone too far.

I know, right? The first time I went out they were sold out of Nutella! We are truly witnessing the fall of western civilization.

I'm starting to see the point of a whole food plant based diet.

That shit has negative value

Here in Canada, lots of out-of-stock items are returning to shelves. Not all of them, but my grocery store has had toilet paper all week and they got flour/pasta recently too

I live in a heavily impacted area for the virus, and am myself high risk, so we're doing all shopping online. All local supermarkets are still booked for deliveries a week in advance, and no store with local delivery has had any tp in the last two weeks, so we may still have a while more to wait as confirmed cases increase ~45% each day, further panicking people, along with those that hadn't panicked yet.

Maybe get a physical newspaper subscription? I hear that's what people used for TP in the old days...

I know this is a joke, but please don't do this. Sure, people used to use newspapers & the Sear's catalog, but they were also using outhouses.

Newspaper will clog plumbing, and it is not fun to deal with.

Not sure if maybe this is a generational thing or what but...

I used paper towels, newspapers, and magazines all the time as a kid when we ran out at home and never once clogged anything as far as I can remember.

There is also the option of throwing the used paper in the trash. This is standard practice in Mexico and I assume many other places with poor water pressure.

In Chicago, the stores still have Kleenex, so it can't be too bad out there.

Depends on the place. My Jewel (in Chicago) was good on tissues and out of toilet paper up until yesterday when it was out of both.

Also in SF Bay Area (in The City). We have TP in the grocery stores.

My exact situation in the midwest as well.

They might be over-thinking it. Toilet paper is incredibly cheap to produce, but most people put a very high price on their last roll, when they know there might not be more. That makes for some interesting economics.

The "answer", at least for those with space, is to keep and rotate three or six months of it, even though that sounds ridiculous. Or, alternatively, do the bidet thing or even have a standby outhouse in back.

Toilet paper is classic "inelastic demand;" no much how much it is, you're going to buy the same amount.

But unlike other inelastic things -- say, critical healthcare -- it's so cheap that its demand/supply behavior comes seemingly out of nowhere.

Generally it's pretty inelastic. However, as some have pointed out, you can be more judicious with its use, and I think what we're going to see in the coming months is that bidets will have shifted from under a 1% market share in the US to closer to 5%.

I don't think it makes sense for toilet paper manufacturers to ramp up production -- sales now mostly just cannibalize your future sales -- but bidet manufacturers should ramp up in order to take advantage of the situation, and maybe tp makers should ramp up just to avoid that that.

Right now, bidets are expensive / out-of-stock on Amazon. If you can make enough to keep them available and the price low, it could finally get a serious foothold in the US, rather than being some extremely niche product. A culture shift in bidet acceptance could finally open up the US market.

> sales now mostly just cannibalize your future sales

Only to the extent you are a monopoly.

Good point -- the future reduction in sales is spread amongst all competitors, so if you can capture some, it can be a net win for you.

Not completely inelastic: we have instituted "wipe consciously" awareness program in my house to promote careful husbanding of resources.

I would think demand could go down by half with concious wiping.

Total demand in the long run may be inelastic, but when it's on discount there are certain people who will stock up on it.

Toilet paper right now effectively is at a very steep discount relative to its true market value. Hoarding could be stopped, or at least mitigated, by price increases. Shortages could be avoided that way.

However, the prospect that toilet paper prices might rise is more worrisome to regulators than there not being any toilet paper to buy at all.

An outhouse doesn't actually solve the need for paper though. My backup plan of last resort is to cut up a few old t-shirts into tp-square sizes. Wipe & run them in a washer load by themselves and repeat as needed. I think I'd choose darker ones-- it's not like they'd be any cleaner after a washing, but I'd feel better about it.

In India, we'd use a water jug and do a "manual bidet" - you can even have warm water - just fill up in the sink before sitting down. You do have to use your hands but they're gonna get washed anyway.

Would rather do this and wash thoroughly than mess about with strips of cloth.

In much of the world, it is considered offensive to shake hands with your left hand, because the left hand is used instead of toilet paper.

If worst comes to worst, you can use your shower and your hand.

People survived for thousands of years before TP was invented.

That's not the worst of the worst.

The worst of the worst is when there is nobody to run the power plants. How do you shower without electricity? There will be no water.

That said, how come people stock up on toilet paper for months, but they don't have enough food to ever survive to the point of last leaf.

Because people have no idea how to survive without modern utilities and conveniences. Toilet paper hoarding is just panic, not a measured response.

As you say, food, water and living essentials are far more important in a real survival scenario.

> That said, how come people stock up on toilet paper for months, but they don't have enough food to ever survive to the point of last leaf.

It's a meme, alright, but how do you know they don't?

(BTW. a month's worth of food takes less space than a month's worth of TP.)

> a month's worth of food takes less space than a month's worth of TP.

I can just barely imagine a month's worth of food fitting in the space of 3-4 TP rolls, but it would be some extremely calorically dense stuff, and if that was what I ate I likely wouldn't need much of the TP.

In other words, I can't see how this is possibly true unless you have digestive issues one way or the other.

We must be using different kind of TP rolls over here than you have in the US. Perhaps yours are larger and denser?

> BTW. a month's worth of food takes less space than a month's worth of TP.

I have questions... that I guess I don't really want to ask.

To answer the obvious question: it's true if you buy food with sensible caloric and macronutrient density. For instance, in a space of less than one roll of TP, canned meats can supply you with a day's worth of calories - and they're just halfway on the kcal/kg scale (mayonnaise is almost three times denser). If you want a more balanced diet, store flours, pastas, canned fruits&vegs, etc. and then make meals off them.

I once did an inventory of the durable food supplies we had around the house, itemizing each product category to account for energy and macronutrients, and then boxed them all up for storage. In the end, I was surprised just how little space a month's worth supply for two takes, even allowing for a balanced diet. I recommend the exercise - especially now, as you'd probably like to know whether your buffer will last as long as you think, and whether it's balanced.

> For instance, in a space of less than one roll of TP, canned meats can supply you with a day's worth of calories - and they're just halfway on the kcal/kg scale (mayonnaise is almost three times that dense).

It's not the volumetrically small amount of food you're using that strikes me as curious, it's the spectacularly large amount of toilet paper. Holy shit!

> For instance, in a space of less than one roll of TP, canned meats can supply you with a day's worth of calories - and they're just halfway on the kcal/kg scale

Right, so, let's say 2 cans, one roll; two days, one roll. One month, 15 rolls? No. "Halfway on the scale"?" One month, 7 rolls? Maybe more likely, but I'm rounding up at every stage here, and granting you're eating only mayo.

The math just doesn't come close.

Don't forget dried beans and other grains. Calorie & carb dense, and also a shelf-stable source of protein.

One answer is that what comes out is a lot less calorically dense than what goes in. This isn't arbitrary--it's practically a fundamental principle of metabolism/physics.

Less isn't zero, though, and lots of life forms live on the output of others. Dung beetles, for example.

If it comes to that using leaves isn't that bad and if there is no one left to run the power plants you aren't going to want to be anywhere near the city.

Leaves are terrible. Remove the major filth using stones with flat edges. Wash the remainder with water then wash hands thoroughly with soap. Use your left hand for washing so the right hand can later be used for eating etc.

I suspect I will shower just like the Romans did in the event there is no power.

With oil & a strigil? I think that was often just a precursor to a visit at a Roman bath. I think sand was also used, when available.

If necessary, I'll tear up an old sheet into squares, and treat them like cloth diapers. After use, toss them in a pail of dilute detergent and non-Cl bleach. When the pail is full, rinse in the toilet, a couple times, and then wash and dry.

I was with you until toilet.

That's the easiest place to rinse them.

I've lived with babies using cloth diapers. After changing a diaper, it went into the toilet. After settling the baby, you swish the diaper around with tongs, flush, and then repeat rinsing and flushing. Then you hold the rinsed diapers in a pail, for a few days, until there are enough to wash.

But sometimes you forget. And then someone gets surprised when they go to use the toilet ;)

But you can use any paper towel in your outhouse, as there is no plumbing to worry about. Still no shortage of regular paper towels, right?

Paper towel shortages are all around me. Ditto for tissues, baby wipes, hand wipes, etc. I can sometimes get a box or two of tissues so I've built up the equivalent of half a pack of toilet paper. My current supply of TP keeps running down and it's been two weeks since any store anywhere near me has had it.

Don't run them in the washer, just wash them out in the sink. Yeah, your hands will get dirty, but that's what soap is for and anyone who's ever dealt with a baby can tell you that it's not the end of the world.

Also, you only need one per trip that way, and you won't risk fouling the washing machine. Saves water, too.

Great idea! Yes, I think you'd have to give at least a cursory wash ahead if using the washing machine. I said washer mainly because mine has a very hot "sanitize" cycle though, so fouling shouldn't be an issue, especially if I add a little bleach to the load.

Or a shower wand and a clean dry towel?

If cloth diapers work, I don't see why cloth toilet paper wouldn't work.

It would, I was just thinking why do more laundry. But whatever works..

Where... can I donate to the COVID-19 vaccine efforts?!

> keep and rotate three or six months of it,

I've been doing this unintentionally. The top of my linen closet isn't good for much else; it's awkward to reach up there so it's only good for lightweight, bulky things.

Given that I'm only gonna use it for TP or paper towels, there's no reason NOT to keep it completely full; there's nothing else I'd be doing with that space anyway. And actually I have the paper towels stored somewhere that's more convenient to the kitchen and garage, where they get used, so the closet top is all TP.

If my girlfriend moved in, it would probably be a 3-month supply. As a single guy, it's closer to a year.

My friend owns a pharmacy in Canada. She said that it started with the previous Wednesday when in a single night they suspended the NBA, Tom Hanks announced he had coronavirus, and I think Trump stopped flights from Europe.

Her store and others were caught in a flurry of buying. Her daily sales were double or triple what they normally should have been and her shelves became empty because they didn’t anticipate it. It caused multiple days of empty shelves because they order on Wednesday for the Friday and Saturday for Monday, so basically they got hit hard Wednesday evening and then they could only order for Monday. So the shelves were empty from Wednesday to Monday. That creates fear.

However all the stores were hammered so the warehouse was empty. Since then she has been getting half orders and the further shelter orders caused more buying. So it hasn’t abated yet.

She has been sold out of masks since January and hand sanitizers for weeks. Only recently did she get sold out of rubbing alcohol and cleaning products. And then after the Wednesday she started selling out of basically everything. It hasn’t stopped yet but she is getting shipments of sanitizer and cleaning products but they are getting bought up immediately.

I went to a Toronto Wal-Mart last Friday, and they were out of just about every pain-reliever. Like, that's not going to save you your life from anything!

One symptom of Coronavirus is a high fever and what we in the UK call paracetamol can reduce the fever thereby reducing the risk of organ damage.

Reducing fever, especially with NSAIDs has shown to lead to a higher mortality rate, it suppresses your immune response. Moderate to high fever is good and is natural response to infection Organ damage needs a very high temperature 106+. If you are below this, taking fever reducers is not a good thing to help you recover from an infection. Fever reducers resulted in a 5 percent mortality increase in flu. France has warned of a link between higher mortality in young adults taking anti-febriles and Coronavirus.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov › pmc The effect on mortality of antipyretics in the treatment of influenza infection: systematic ...

Paracetamol (acetaminophen/Tylenol) is not an NSAID, is not an anti-inflammatory and there's no evidence that it has any negative effect on outcomes. You're mixing it up with ibuprofen (Advil), which is an NSAID and may result in worse outcomes.

The current medical advice is take paracetamol, but not ibuprofen. https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/paracetamol-for-adults/

It helps to understand what you're talking about before writing in such an authoratitive tone.

The study linked systematically reviewed animal models of influenza and and antipyretic use and found that aspirin, paracetamol and diclofenac increased mortality.

They lamented that there weren’t any good trials in humans available to review, so the impacts of antipyretics on influenza is still an open question, but the animal models aren’t looking promising.

In other words: should you take antipyretics for the flu? Dunno for sure, but I’ll avoid it based on the data that we do have.

I'll go with what my doctor tells me but thanks for the links.

This is acetaminophen, btw. Usually called tynadol in the US.


I had to look up if Tynadol was the name of another drug. Sounds like it could be, heh.

Wait till you folk discover a hand faucet or a bidet like we have over here. It will change your world and leave your butts cleaner.

Just bought a bidet (I've been wanting one for years) and man I think it will change my life. Just being able to clean off every time feels SO much better. Absolute luxury!

As a toilet paper user I've never experienced any problems that I can trace back to having a dirty butt. I don't think my wiping technique is anything special. Are you saying when you use toilet paper you're unable to clean yourself well enough that it becomes an issue for you? What exactly is the issue? What about your world changed other than the lack of toilet paper?

If a bird shat on your arm would you just use tissue to wipe it away or would you wash the arm with water, and soap if available?

In most parts of Asia, people use water, in combination with TP. Western hygiene standards seem to be lacking in this area.

Ahahaha I love this because of how accurate it is.

For most its the unfamiliarity with the idea which prevents the rational thinking behind it

It's not accurate at all, though. I use my arm and my asshole for completely different things. There's no danger I'm going to accidentally wipe my asshole across my face. If I shit on my counter I would clean it and disinfect it immediately, but I shit in my toilet every day and only clean it every few days and never disinfect it.

I like to live in reality and not a world of what-ifs. About 50% of my shits are immediately followed by a shower. As far as I (or anybody else so far) can tell, whether or not I followed the toilet paper up with a shower has absolutely zero impact.

That's a ridiculous comparison. My arm and asshole serve completely different functions.

Again I ask, exactly what issues have you had that stemmed from using toilet paper instead of a bidet?

I like your analogy but a successful run to the toilet might not need more than one wipe.

there was a great bit in deadpool similar to your point https://youtu.be/OpBM4JRs1mU

I never experienced any problem either until I moved to Asia and now whenever I visit the west I can now feel how poorly cleaned my butt actually gets. I actually took to hopping in the shower again if I took a dump in the morning before leaving the hotel room...

But I try it all the time. I shit primarily first thing in the morning. That's generally, but not always, immediately followed by a shower. There's no physical difference in the sense of cleanliness of my asshole. Since I have tried it and can't tell a difference I'm left to assume it's either your wiping technique or diet that's the issue. Either that or it's just a physiological thing for you.

If you haven't tried it, you don't really know. The advice isn't coming from people unacquainted with your method.

But I try it all the time. I shit primarily first thing in the morning. That's generally, but not always, immediately followed by a shower. There's no physical difference in the sense of cleanliness of my asshole. Since I have tried it and can't tell a difference I'm left to assume it's either your wiping technique or diet that's the issue. Either that or it's just a physiological thing for you.

Just got one. As someone who possesses body hair, yeah, TP consumption is way down.

Yes a thin veil of lightly smeared poop is not going to kill you. Does not mean cleaning it up a bit more is going to hurt either.

The assertion I was replying to was that my world would be changed, not that it wouldn't hurt.

I’m curious why you are digging in like this. OP wasn’t insulting anybody.

The person I replied to said it would change my world. I just want to know how exactly.


If you pause to think about it is toilet paper actually an essential good? There are other ways…

Two of my siblings were raised in cloth diapers due to our finances in those years. A clean butt isn’t difficult to achieve cheaply. It just requires getting a little more dirty than normal.

Which only shifts the demand to soap and other cleaning products.

Lye and fat and salt makes soap and glycerin. Should lye run out you can make it from hardwood ashes. Should salt run out you can make it by evaporating sea water. Mix glycerin with alcohol to make hand sanitizer.

Have you tried getting hold of isopropyl alcohol (or similar) recently? Impossible :(

A pot-still seems like a doable weekend project.

Soap and detergents are denser and therefore easier and cheaper to transport. So then thanks for the supporting point I guess.

I wonder what the current toilet paper manufacturers are going through right now? I'm an industrial engineer, so production issues and supply/demand issues are always of interest to me. A few possibilities:

* Adding shifts at overtime pay to meet demand (lower profit/unit, but more equipment utilization and total profit)

* Potentially higher freight charges (entirely unsure how freight rates are going these days compared to normal)

* Calloffs from employees from illness, exposure, or fear

* Lacking supply if they're working on a Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) system - where the supplier owns inventory until pulled by a customer, at which time the supplier gets paid. These agreements often have parameters about stocking and forecast levels, which are typically fine, but then Sales talks about the "customer relationship" and wants to make drastic changes to how the factory runs (sub-optimizing production) to keep $bigCustomer happy.

Per the manager, the grocery store near me averages 10 units/day of toilet paper sold (good size town in the Midwest, with many grocery stores). One day about 2 weeks ago they sold 3,000 units. They have ~75 feet of shelf space (4 shelves high) dedicated to toilet paper. Literal semi's full of toilet paper flying off the shelves. They now have a limit if 1 unit per trip.

I've been to the store twice since then and always check the toilet paper aisle as a gauge of how they're doing. Still completely empty when I visit after work.

COVID-19 doesn't show GI issues as a symptom. Consumption isn't going up notably, but demand has been bonkers. Everybody will have months of toilet paper in their inventory at home, causing demand in the coming months to drop significantly. They may need to reduce the number of shifts or eliminate overtime at the factories.

Shelf space at grocery stores is expensive. If the toilet paper companies pay for less shelf space, they may not get it back. Grocery stores won't be excited to use that much space for a product that's moving at <50% of previous volumes.

It really is a weird issue and I don't envy the people figuring out how to deal with it.

You missed one obvious reaction, the one I'd use: business as normal.

Why? Because spiking supply now will hurt them later. Usage hasn't/doesn't actually go up. In fact, usage will go down by whatever percentage of the population succumbs.

I agree from a purely production point of view. But then the marketing director says "if we're the one on the shelves, people will remember our brand positively and drive up brand loyalty/future sales".

Many people do experience GI issues before the lung troubles become noticeable. Another early symptom is loss of smell.

Thanks, I learned that since posting my comment but hadn't heard it mentioned as a symptom.

From reading I did earlier, GI issues may be more common in older groups.

Related is this video from The Atlantic about the same thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX_FTiRB5QI

Johnny Carson jokes about it and then people rush out and buy toilet paper causing a shortage.

The shortages in NY could be solved if shops just placed a limit on how much you could buy. It’s all these wannabe preppers buying more than they need who make it difficult for everyone else.

Shops in NY have been limiting to one pack per customers for over a week now, at least here in Rochester NY.

There are limits on pasta, canned goods, meat etc. as well.

The reason not to do that is that you don't want to cause customers - especially those from NY - to have "that argument" with your staff, multiple times each day.

The same amount of toilet paper - all of it - gets sold either way.

The other day I heard, a store in Denmark put in tiered pricing to counteract hoarding of hand sanitizers. Legally they can't limit the amount per customer, but they can add a "limited quantity discount". So the regular price is $133 but the "just one" price is $5.


Then they just rotate through the stores, buying one from each and then coming back for more the next day.

This reminds me of the current situation we are in because of coronavirus.

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