In the last couple of weeks our nation, our city, and our families have changed drastically. Before now, most of us never used the term coronavirus or COVID-19. But now, those terms have taken center stage.
We have all been affected personally in one way or another.
According to an article in the New York Times, if not contained, COVID-19 could infect between 160-214 million people and cause a death toll of between 200,000-1.7 million. The main word is “if”. We’re all doing our best to keep ourselves—and others safe. “My daughter is mad at me,” a friend said, “I won’t let her to go a friend’s house and she’s pouting.”
In some ways, we’re all pouting. We have all been forced to alter our schedules and way of living. It’s a “new normal” at least for the time being.
Human behavior is odd, at times. Sometimes, it’s just downright unbelievable. We’re facing a pandemic and panicking people are purchasing piles of toilet paper! Throughout our region, people have been hoarding toilet paper and other supplies. Social scientists say that hoarding is a mechanism of self-preservation and control.
It got so bad that, for a while, store shelves were bare and angry people were acting irrationally. This led to many stores enforcing a two-pack limit.
One of the strangest stories I heard was about the Newport Police Department in Oregon who had to put out the following statement: “It’s hard to believe that we even have to post this. Do not call 9-1-1 just because you ran out of toilet paper.”
We need to get to the bottom of this. Toilet paper is a luxury. According to several sources, about four billion people of the world’s almost eight billion people don't use toilet paper. Shocking right? Some sites say that number is about 70-percent. That’s hard for most of us to believe. “Why is that?” we wonder. Some civilizations just don’t have the trees. Some can’t afford it. And some just don’t see the need. It seems that most of the world just uses…wait for it….water.
In ancient times, wanting wipers, used shells, stones, snow, moss, hay, leaves, grass, corncobs, sheep's wool, sponges, and eventually, newspapers, magazines, and pages of books.
The first commercially available toilet paper did not hit the shelves in the U.S. until 1857. At that time, it wasn’t well received. For some odd reason, the inventor decided to print his name on every sheet (talk about a bad marketing idea). At that time, the general public saw no reason to pay for toilet paper. They were just as happy using the free Sears, Roebuck, & CO. magazine.
But the issue was on a roll and in the late 1800s two brothers popularized paper on a roll. But, still, our nation was not ready to squeeze the Charmin. It seems that Americans were too modest and embarrassed to buy the product. I guess they didn’t want anyone else to know that they used the stuff. In fact, the two brothers did not even want to take credit for their invention until years later.
But as you know, in the end, toilet paper caught on. The main reason was indoor plumbing. People were now experiencing the luxury of going indoors and using a plumbing system.
Unfortunately, the Sears magazine paper was too hard to flush and would clog up the system. Since necessity is the mother of invention, toilet paper caught on.
Currently, the U.S. spends more than $6 billion a year on toilet tissue (maybe because we eat more than any other nation?). We also use it for all sorts of stuff like blowing our nose, cleaning up small spills, removing makeup, covering toilet seats, killing spiders, drying up the blood from nicked shaving, packaging material, cleaning mirrors, TP’ing homes, and a whole lot more.
By a whole lot more, I mean, on average, Americans use about 57 squares a day. The average number of sheets a person uses is 8.6 sheets per trip to the bathroom. That means, most people use about 20,000 sheets of toilet paper per year (or about 100 rolls).
Studies show that most people are not satisfied with what comes off the roll. Women like to wad up the paper before use and men prefer to fold it. The remaining like to use the “wrap method.”
There is no argument of the “over” or “under” method off the roll. It’s a façade. According to the 1891 patent for the toilet paper, it states specifically that the end of the roll should be hanging off the top (which is why they put the decorative side out). Please don’t send me any angry emails. Over the top is historical.
So, why is toilet paper flying off the shelves? Fear. Researchers say, it would take a household of 15 to work through a 30-pack of two-ply over a two-week timeframe. For a couple, one pack should last for nearly four months.
There is no shortage of toilet tissues. In the Los Angeles Times, Professor Willy Shih said, “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 that the issue is that toilet paper production has been too steady—supply and demand has been a normal routine for many years.
If anything, toilet paper supplies are suffering from being too steady, Shih says, “there is no hot season for toilet paper.” That means that TP factories run on a schedule and are designed to run as efficiently as possible around the clock to produce the amount of paper that we need. A run on toilet paper just created a sense of scarcity. Again, fear.
Thankfully, although most of the stuff we buy comes from outside our borders, when it comes to TP, it’s born and bred in America. Imported toilet paper only makes up about 9% of the total U.S. supply.
So, in the end, we can’t let fear get the best of us. We need to be cautious and use wisdom. We also need to adjust to a new normal. But we’ll get through this. And, just maybe we’ll be better friends and neighbors. This is a time for caring for and sharing with one another. We’ll all get through this together. We’re kind of like two-ply. We’re just better together.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer.