This morning, my husband was up at dawn to be first in line at our local grocery store. Why? Because we were almost out of toilet paper, and that's pretty much the only way to get it now. The question of when toilet paper is coming back in stock everywhere tops the long list of unknowns for many people during this pandemic. If you're tired of staring at bare shelves or waking at an unholy hour to stand in line for something that used to be readily available, you're not alone, but even toilet paper manufacturers can't pinpoint exactly when your beloved toilet tissue will be around again.
When reaching out to top producers, none who responded were able to provide a date for when store shelves would see normal stock levels again. A spokesperson for Kimberly-Clark, the company who produces Cottonelle brand toilet paper, says they are proud of continued efforts by their teams who are "working hard to ensure a steady supply of product to stores."
"We want to assure consumers that we have plans in place to address the increased demand for our products including accelerated production and reallocating inventory," the spokesperson tells Romper. "Kimberly-Clark is working closely with our retail partners and customers to understand their current needs, and we will continue to make adjustments to our plans as necessary."
My husband was lucky enough to snag us a package of toilet paper early this morning that will last our household about two weeks, but stores are barely able to keep packages on store shelves. It seems like once they unpack a load of coveted goods like toilet paper, paper towels, or tissues, they vanish almost instantly, leaving families everywhere shaking their fists in rage at the panicked preppers who hoarded enough TP at the beginning of social distancing to keep their behinds clean until next century.
Hoarders and panic-buyers aren't necessarily to blame, as Will Oremus surmised in an article for Medium that breaks down the toilet paper supply chain and helps reassure Americans that store shelves will eventually fill back up. The pandemic has truly created a supply-and-demand conundrum where wipeable goods are concerned.
Think about it: while you're staying at home, you're using more of your own toilet paper. Your kids aren't going to the bathroom at school, you aren't going at work, in a restaurant, at Starbucks, so there is more demand for toilet paper produced for consumers than toilet paper produced for commercial purposes.
Unfortunately, manufacturing and distributing each type of toilet paper is drastically different, so companies can't just start making more of the consumer type of toilet paper that you usually see on store shelves instead of the kind businesses typically buy in bulk. The processing, packaging, sales, and distribution would all have to change on a dime and then completely shift back once things get back to some semblance of normal.
For now, major paper goods manufacturers like Kimberly-Clark, Georgia-Pacific, and Procter & Gamble who produces Charmin toilet paper, have all released different game plans about the state of toilet paper production on their respective websites.
"We are producing and shipping Charmin at record high levels," Charmin communication manager Loren Fanroy tells Romper. "Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible so everyone can continue to Enjoy the Go — our manufacturing sites are currently running 24/7." Fanroy also notes that the company is prioritizing production of their bestsellers "to maximize the amount of product we can ship to retailers."
Each manufacturer seems to be doing their best to ramp up production efforts to meet increased demand, as well as keep their employees safe. At Kimberly-Clark specifically, extra precautions are being taken to ensure health and safety. "Some of the enhanced safety measures, developed in line with guidance from global health authorities, include encouraging employees to stay home when they feel unwell, regular cleaning of work areas, shift rotations, distancing reminders where people gather, implementing temperature scans at entry points, and where applicable, enhancing paid leave policies," the Kimberly-Clark spokesperson tells Romper. "These plans also help to ensure the continued supply of our essential products.
If you truly cannot find any toilet paper at retailers and online orders are too backed up, you may need to get creative. Some local restaurants selling pantry goods may have their toilet paper supply for sale — after all, nobody is coming in to use it. Also, if you don't mind a somewhat scratchier 2-ply that won't fit on your traditional holder, you can bulk order commercial grade toilet paper. If you go this route and don't want to store it all, consider dropping some off on your neighbor's porch or splitting the order with family and friends.
The toilet paper stock at your grocery store will get back to normal at some point, it just might be a while. Like everything else right now, we just have to wait and see how it all plays out.