I was worried about many things at the height of the pandemic; how I would wipe my butt was not one of those things. Until there was a toilet tissue shortage and then a complete toilet tissue outage. And now we have the Delta variant driving people batshit crazy, and for good reason. I wasn’t entirely surprised when my mother-in-law sent me a text that said, “FYI-Costco is rationing paper goods. In the UK supermarket managers are being alerted that shortages are expected.” I shot back a quick “ok” and brushed it off, thinking that we would not get to that point here — not again. But here we are. Costco is limiting the amount of both toilet tissue and water customers can buy at one time.
Usually, the giant, buy-in-bulk stores are all pretty much the same: big packages of food, toilet paper, paper towels, batteries, you name it, you can find it in huge quantities at Costco. With new COVID cases seemingly on the decline in the United States according to the CDC, delays from suppliers seem to be to blame for the restriction on the amount of toilet tissue you can get your hands on. The executive vice president and chief financial officer of Costco, Richard A. Galanti, told investors on a call last week that they were experiencing “port delays; container shortages; Covid disruptions; shortages on various components, raw materials and ingredients; labor cost pressures, and trucker and driver shortages.” For much of last year in the aisles of Costco, people were fighting over toilet tissue. And here we are again.
Long lines, empty shelves, mass hysteria: videos have gone viral showing what happens in Costco during times like these. Why is it always toilet paper that’s the first to go? A 2021 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Research cites, “Panic buying and hoarding may be evolutionarily adaptive responses to scarcity and uncertainty, as securing resources can help individuals survive.” And in a report for the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, psychiatry professor Steven Taylor took it a step further by explaining that “People who are highly frightened of infection tend to have heightened disgust proneness.
Toilet paper is a means of escaping disgust stimuli, and for this and other reasons, toilet paper became a target of PB for people frightened of contracting COVID-19.” Taylor told CNN that efforts by community leaders to thwart panic buying of toilet paper also tend to backfire, due to what’s known as the “innuendo effect” in social psychology: “Our leaders typically say something like ‘Don’t panic! There is enough toilet paper!’ This message backfires because it pairs, in the minds of shoppers, toilet paper and panic.”
What makes this shortage a tad more perplexing is that Costco has not yet shared what such limitations on toilet tissue, cleaning supplies, and other household supplies will be. Galanti went on to tell investors that the membership-only Costco, “has seen an increase in overall price inflation on its products this quarter, estimated to be between 3.5% and 4.5%” — so on top of limitations on purchases, consumers will also pay more for their bulk package of toilet paper rolls.
There is hope, though; according to Dr. Gottlieb, former commissioner of the FDA, we have reason to believe that things will get better. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Gottlieb said, “We need to get to around 80% to 85% to have enough vaccination in the population that you start to see case rates decline and the velocity of spread start to slow.”
The takeaway: get vaccinated to help lower the infection rate. Not only will it save lives, but it just might save toilet paper too.