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Published March 24, 2020


Why do people hoard during the virus crisis?

And, an alternate choice to toilet paper

By John Toth / The Bulletin

Amidst the news fog of the coronavirus, I ventured out to the supermarket to get a few things.

I walked into the first supermarket and found rows of empty shelves. There was no fresh produce or frozen products, but plenty of canned stuff.

That’s funny. I’d be going for the canned products if I were to hoard food supplies, along with my other panicked minions.

“We had a power failure,” said the clerk at the checkout counter. “We had to remove all that stuff from the shelves.”

What timing. On to the next store, which looked normal like always, not even that many shoppers.
Kids were tagging along with their parents, most of whom searched for toilet paper, water and paper towels.

But there weren’t any.

I went to another store - no toilet paper, no paper towels. The virus news scared people into hoarding these items - and hand sanitizers. I understand the hand sanitizer part, but what’s up with the rest?

I went on Amazon to look for some. This giant, multi-billion dollar retailer that can get the weirdest and rarest gadgets to my doorstep in one or two days, had also sold out.

This is crazy. I have been binge-watching the news, but could not make the connection between the virus and the need to hoard toilet paper, paper towels or water.

What do they have to do with the virus? What could trigger this type of behavior?

I went on Facebook and asked my friends why people are hoarding toilet paper. Nobody knew, but my friends reported some weird incidents they have encountered while shopping.

“I went to get milk. Big mistake. When I went in, someone came out with a cart full of milk. Probably 25 gallons I'd say. What on earth do they need that much for? Lots of crazies out there,” wrote a Facebook poster.

“That's nuts,” responded another. “ I wonder if all of it expires in a week? Good luck to that person. Drinking that much milk, that family will NEED more toilet paper.”

The average person uses about 100 rolls of toilet paper per year. If it came from China, I would understand the panic buying, because the virus has interfered with the Chinese supply chain. But the U.S. imports very little toilet paper, about 10%, most of that from Canada and Mexico. The rest is manufactured domestically.

Economists say that people feel better when they hoard a product, even if it doesn’t really solve their overall problem. Having tons of toilet paper does not protect anyone from the virus. Even those who test positive and have to be quarantined for 14 days cannot use up that much toilet paper while they recover.

We’ll muddle through this - like we do through hurricanes - and bounce back, as we always do. But those of you who are sitting on massive amounts of products you really don’t need, shame on you for being so selfish. It’s just making a bad situation worse for others.

I have not found a concrete answer as to what makes people hoard toilet paper during a vitus scare, but I did look up what people used before toilet paper was invented. Here is what the Internet machine said:
“Leaves, rags, moss and rags were some of the less-painful (and probably more sanitary) options. ... In the late 15th century, paper became readily available, so newspaper was commonly used as toilet paper. In more modern times, Americans used the Sears & Roebuck catalog and ``The Old Farmer's Almanac.”

So, if you still have not found any toilet paper and have run out, look at what you’re holding in your hands right now. That’s right. Go right ahead. I won’t be offended. You’re welcome.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)