As the coronavirus pandemic has spread, Americans have taken to stores to clear out shelves of hand sanitizer, canned goods and other emergency rations. For some reason, they’ve also been panic-buying toilet paper. According to some estimates, Americans use less than half a roll per week on average. According to others, the average is a little over one. Even at that upper limit, it would take a household of 15 to rip through just one Costco-sized 30-pack of Kirkland Signature two-ply over the course of a 14-day quarantine. For a couple, one pack should last for nearly four months.
… So is there in fact any risk to the nation’s toilet paper pipeline? The short answer: No. Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies manufacturing supply chains, says, “It’s not like suddenly all the toilet paper factories in the world are burning down. They’re still cranking this stuff out.”
… Shih says if anything, toilet paper supplies are suffering from being too steady. Typically, demand for the product is flat proportional to the population — there is no hot season for toilet paper. That means that factories are designed to run as efficiently as possible around the clock to produce a constant stream of product, with little room for increase or decrease. So, barring a new craze for mummy costumes, the actual use of toilet paper is unlikely to increase. Even if stores are running out of toilet paper today, more rolls will keep showing up like they always have.
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