True or False? Toilet Paper Shortage is Caused by Panic-Buying (The Real Reason Behind the US TP Problem)

(EnviroNews USA Headline News Desk) — As lockdowns due to the COVID-19 virus continue to roll out across the United States, many people are scared and some are looking at ways to profit from that fear. In the center of it all is toilet paper. While empty shelves have caused many people to panic, Leslie Sarasin, the CEO of the Food Industry Association, says there’s no reason to worry.

“If we buy things for what we may need for the next week or so rather than what we might need for six or eight months we will slowly but surely get back to a bit more of a normal kind of availability within the supermarket,” Sarasin told ABC11 Raleigh. The supply chain is resilient.

Manufacturers have ramped up production while limiting the options available to the brands most in demand. By reducing the variety of toilet paper in sizes and other options, companies are increasing the rate in which they can get their products in to the distribution network and out to stores.

Arist Mastorides, President of Family Care for Kimberly-Clark North America, maker of Cottonelle, told USA Today his company is stepping up production, and while he couldn’t give exact numbers, he said “it’s a significant [enough] amount to cover what we think will be used with people traveling less and staying home more.”

The problem isn’t just a lack of toilet paper; it’s the change in where people are using the bathroom. According to USA Today, Georgia-Pacific, maker of Quilted Northern, estimates that sheltering in place has increased household use of TP by about 40 percent. Eric Abercrombie, spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, says that demand is “staying steady or surged in the commercial market” due to the increase of use at essential businesses and healthcare facilities, but he expects retail demand to taper off. Commercial TP is often less soft than that which is made for use at home because the sheets are 1-ply and made from recycled fibers.

Despite the empty shelves, there are supplies of commercial toilet paper just sitting around in closed businesses and stockrooms. According to Scott Luton, CEO and Founder of Supply Chain Now, a digital media company, it’s not as simple as repurposing commercial TP for the domestic market, and the supply chain “is not built for dramatic shifts and seasonal demand changes.”

The toilet paper industry is simply incapable of meeting sudden, dramatic increases in demand. “[Manufactures] would love to be able to supply all the demand, but they would need to expand capacity by buying more equipment. It’s very expensive. So really all they can do to minimally increase their capacity is using overtime or maybe adding another shift if they can,” Patrick Penfield, professor of supply chain practice at Syracuse University told USA Today.