Toilet paper in the coronavirus era

By Susana Samhan

Washington, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- Ed is an American who lives by himself in this capital and has responded to the ongoing coronavirus crisis by accumulating a large stockpile of 20 toilet paper packages at his home.

That behavior might be construed as odd or even paranoid at another moment in time, but amid the current and ever-growing Covid-19 pandemic households worldwide are making similar consumer choices.

Not withstanding his impressive supply, this 63-year-old retiree told Efe upon exiting a supermarket in downtown Washington DC that he has tried not to hoard too much of this basic necessity out of a sense of solidarity with his fellow man.

The fear and anxiety triggered by the novel coronavirus are making the search for toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other basic products a veritable odyssey, not because of supply-chain problems but due to compulsive buying that can be at once rational and irrational.

“Hoarding is not rational, but stocking up is,” consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow says.

“So I think what we’re seeing primarily is a practical response to a difficult situation. People are eating at home more, they’re at home more. they need more stuff. Their kids are home. So a lot of it is very practical,” she told Efe.

But sensible consumer behavior becomes less pragmatic when feelings of fear and anxiety lead to panic buying, Yarrow said.

Cincinnati, Ohio-based Procter & Gamble, maker of the popular US toilet paper brand Charmin, has had to ramp up output amid the pandemic, with that brand’s communications manager, Loren Fanroy, confirming that it is currently producing and shipping record-high levels of its personal-care products.

“Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible,” she told Efe by e-mail.

Although consumers are stocking up on all kinds of goods, from toothpaste to canned goods to cleaning products, their bulk purchases of toilet paper are a particularly notable phenomenon.

In some countries, security guards have even had to be deployed to supermarkets to prevent people from fighting over that highly coveted item.

Psychologist John Grohol, founder and editor-in-chief of the mental health and psychology network, said there are different reasons behind these panic purchases of toilet paper.

“It doesn’t spoil, so no particular care needs to be given to its long-term storage. And a person can always use it in the future,” he said.

In the US, many people also incorrectly assume that toilet paper is imported from China and that the Asian nation could limit shipments during the crisis.

“Lastly, toilet paper is a simple need in our society to perform daily bodily functions,” Grohol said. “While it may not be much, for many people it provides a small feeling of control over the situation by making this particular purchase. A person is ‘doing something,’ even if it’s not much, to help be prepared for a multi-week quarantine.”

People also purchase large amounts of toilet paper, toothpaste or basic foodstuffs like beans out of fear of letting their families down and because news reports about panic buying increase their anxiety.

Even so, for Yarrow there’s a clear distinction between normal bulk purchasing and pathological behavior.

“The experts are suggesting that we have about two weeks in our pantry, just to make sure. But you know, if we have two years in our pantry, then we know we’ve crossed the line,” the consumer psychologist said.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Ed is Cynthia, a retiree who spoke to Efe on her way out of the same supermarket and playfully refused to reveal her age.

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