The global toilet paper shortage of 2020


As we are about eight weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, I have been pondering some of the odder situations that have arisen during that time period. One of the most peculiar has been the sudden shortage of toilet paper.

Why did we start buying tons of TP when this whole ordeal started up? And I say we, because I’m trying to be nice. I should be saying why did some of you guys do that, because I didn’t, and I know a lot of others who didn’t.

And this wasn’t just a Walker County thing. This was a global situation. People hoarded toilet paper. Can we let that sink in for a moment? Around the world, people, who I think were sane before this situation, started purchasing as much toilet paper as they could get their hands on for a virus that didn’t really cause you to go to the bathroom more often.

My personal toilet paper buying has not changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have purchased a 12-pack on three different occasions over the last eight weeks. I have seven people in my home. When I found our situation down to a couple of rolls, I would go and find more. I feel like that is normal. Due to the hoarders, I did have to look a few places, but I was always able to find some. In full disclosure, I do have a few friends working at local grocery stores who would text me from time to time just to let me know that they had received a shipment that day, but I never took them up on the offer. I did text one friend, just to see if his store had some and went and got it.

I would also like to say that I should be nominated for some sort of sainthood for not overbuying when I did find toilet paper or Lysol spray. I even asked my wife to put a can of spray back one night because there were only two, and she had grabbed both.

In other areas of the world, the toilet paper shortage was far worse than in America. A café in Australia started accepting rolls of TP as payment, with a cup of coffee costing three rolls. That country also had a community-minded newspaper that printed an 8-page special section of just white newsprint to be used as toilet paper to ease the shortage. I recently read a story where in Hong Kong armed robbers held up a supermarket, only taking 600 rolls and nothing else.

When the shortage was pretty obvious here, I did see toilet paper in places like pharmacies, and one local restaurant was selling a roll for $1.50 just to help people get by if they had run out of the stuff. 

During one recent 4-week period, Americans spent $1.4 billion on toilet paper, which was a 102 percent increase from the previous year. Only hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes and sprays have seen bigger sales boosts. 

A recent story in The Washington Post suggested theories for the shortage of toilet paper included panicked buying as one big reason and the fact that people have been at home more so they are in fact using more. It is probably really a combination of both of those things. 

I personally believe the panicked attitudes in the early part of the pandemic was the biggest factor. People just bought anything they could, and as much of anything that they could. Most buyers didn’t even think about buying a ton of nonperishables, instead buying up loads of fresh fruit and vegetables that would be rotten in a matter of days. 

All this lack of TP has proven to me is that if we are ever in an actual end of days scenario, common sense will be tossed out the window. It will be a dog-eat-dog or for the sake of this conversation a no sparing a square situation. 

I hope we can all learn from the global toilet paper shortage of 2020, and I hope we can be better humans from that learning experience.

James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or