The month was March 2020, and the situation was dire. No pasta for your boiling water, no eggs for breakfast, and, most notable of all, no toilet paper to… well do what toilet paper does? As many of you know or have experienced, grocery store shelves were purchased clean after the announcement of COVID-19 as a pandemic. The first to be panic bought (and frankly, the most shocking) was toilet paper.

Know anyone who says that they don’t go to the washroom unless it’s on company time? Well one of the reasons toilet paper stock was hit so hard is the fact people using toilet paper in offices, schools, restaurants, theatres, etc. (commercial-use) transitioned to staying at home (residential-use). As a result, suppliers noted a 40% rise in residential toilet paper consumption. This rise contributed to the shortages in grocery stores across North America due to the separated manufacturing for residential and commercial toilet paper production.

Toilet paper shelves near empty in Dickinson as coronavirus panic ...
Picture of the shelves left behind after nationwide toilet paper shortages!

However, a far greater impact on the sale of toilet paper may have more to do with the psychology of shoppers than our ability to predict how much toilet paper we’ll need at home. The second reason the shelves have experienced an on-going shortage is the “The fear of scarcity”, as psychologists call it. As consumers see pictures online, hear stories from friends, and see some empty shelves themselves, they will become scared that there will be no toilet paper when they need it, and so they go out and buy up as much as they can to avoid the problem. The circle then continues, until the supply chain can play “catch up”. This problem is exacerbated even further as everyone buying just a package of toilet paper instead of putting it off can really put a dent on shelves since packages of toilet paper take up considerable volume.

Whatever the reason for the surge in panic buying, there’s a reason we are talking about this on our waste-reducing themed blog. How can we conserve our precious toilet paper in order to avoid price hikes, avoid shortages, and ultimately save our environment? Simply put, the answer is folding!! Studies have shown that folding uses less toilet paper than crumpling (want proof? – read here). This is true with paper towel too! To see more of why folding is so important and see some examples, check out the Ted Talk – The Shake and Fold (find out more about this here).

As times change, this is time to embrace change. No toilet paper, no problem! Try a bidet. Bidets are environmentally friendly and use less water, electricity and wood than a single roll of toilet paper. They are also proven to be more sanitary leading to less rashes, UTIs, etc. If you need any other reasons than just that, they will save you money! Bidets are as cheap as $25 and the average person spends over $2100 on toilet paper during their life time. You could go on a nice getaway for that (after this is over of course). If you are still skeptical check this out.

Although there are ways to use less toilet paper when you have some, amidst the craziness, some folks have unfortunately run out of toilet paper, causing them to resort to wiping with all sorts of different products! After toilet paper, the most popular alternative to clean up with are wipes. However, the gripe about wipes is in the pipes (more information here). Even though some wipes will say they are flushable they really aren’t. Wipes can cause back-ups in the sewer system or in the home, so the answer is don’t do it! Complications with flushing miscellaneous products down the toilet does not stop with wipes either. Other products such as feminine hygiene products, paper towel, napkins, or gloves have all been documented to cause issues when flushed. On a side note, do yourself and the Earth a favour and don’t litter your used gloves either! If there is no nearby garbage, carry an emergency plastic bag with you and put them in there until you can properly dispose of them.Figure 2: This is applicable everywhere and a little reminder for some of us.

This is applicable everywhere and a little reminder for some of us.

Backtracking to the topic of toilet paper, it is important to note that not all toilet paper is created equal. Most toilet paper goes directly from the trees to the toilet, which is unnecessary and downright wasteful. There is hope in this regard, however, as some companies have caught themselves in the act and have developed a variety toilet paper created from post-consumer recycling, diverting tonnes of waste from landfill in the process. Some brands made with recycled materials include Seventh Generation and Cascade Fluff.  Interestingly, at the UHN we supply paper to Cascade from our confidential shredding, so we know exactly where that paper is coming from!

Thankfully, with all of the shortages occurring, people will learn to be a little bit more conservative with their favourite bathroom buddy; learning that we should keep our friends close, and toilet paper closer! Stay safe and healthy everyone.

If you haven’t already come try out our Earth Month Scavenger Hunt!