What’s Come Out About China’s Toilet Paper Use

In-store U.S. toilet paper sales rose 51% between Feb. 24, 2020 and March 10, as buyers started getting uneasy about the growing number of coronavirus cases. Image: Georgia-Pacific the production line  in Atlanta; Georgia-Pacific via AP

“The amount of toilet paper the average American uses hasn’t changed – it’s still around 141 rolls per year, versus  just 49 rolls in China.”  – AP 

“The U.S. imported $4.6 billion in agricultural products from China in 2017.” – Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture

“China’s food safety issues are worse than you thought.” – Food Safety News

“Much of the rural population still does not use toilet paper …”

and other concerns about personal hygiene in China

PLUS: That Day Hoarders Bought 9 Times As Much TP As Usual

Headline Health – China uses only 49 rolls of toilet paper per person per year, compared with 141 rolls per person in the United States.

Should this question matter to Americans? Considering that the coronavirus – and a significant portion of our food supply – come from China, people are starting to ask questions.

Such as: why are China’s toilet habits so different from our own? 

One Quora user asked “Why can Chinese toilets not cope with toilet paper?” Here are some of the answers:

  • “Toilets in China can cope with toilet paper, but the old days memory tells people they can’t. Modern standard paper was used after the popularity of flush toilet. At the beginning, Chinese people had to use some very thick toilet paper, some even used newspaper or paper teared off from old books. They were not flushable. Nowadays, the paper we use is standard and flushable, but many people still don’t believe so.”
  • “For various reasons often Chinese drainage pipes were to small in diameter, thus were easily blocked by toilet paper. With modern buildings this should not be the case anymore – but old habits die hard.”

It also turns about that toilet paper theft is a common problem in China. The Washington Post reported (March 21, 2017): 

“Many public restrooms in China are not equipped with toilet paper and instead rely on patrons to supply their own. But until recently, the bathrooms of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, a complex of religious buildings constructed in 1420, carried rolls upon rolls of the white stuff. Unfortunately, toilet paper thieves, who had long frustrated Beijing authorities, ruined the complex’s bounty for everyone else. The unassuming thieves stole the tissue paper using backpacks and shopping bags, an investigative report by the Beijing Evening News showed. Beijing authorities are now turning to a new technology designed to slow the shoplifters. Temple of Heaven’s bathrooms were outfitted with toilet paper dispensers that utilize facial recognition software, the BBC reported.”

The site usac.edu (USAC®, University Studies Abroad Consortium) had some very practical advice for Westerners studying in China: 

“If you didn’t know, you do now – you cannot flush toilet paper in China, even in western toilets. This is mostly due to the older sewage systems and piping. There are some more modern areas and hotels where you can, but unless you’re sure, it’s better to just toss it. In public toilets there will be bins and in your dorms you’ll want to get a bin. In public toilets there is not always toilet paper, so carry a small pack of tissues with you. Also, most public toilets are squat-style, so no need for toilet seat covers. In your dorms, you will have western-style toilets.”

Where things really get concerning is away from China’s cities, in areas where most of the food is grown, both for national consumption and for export. In an overview of the toilet paper market in China, Beijing-based Daxue Consulting reports:  

“However, much of the rural population still does not use toilet paper.”

Indeed, poor sanitation is cause for concern with food produced in China. As The Lancet reported (Jun 8, 2014)”

“Food supply and food safety are major global public health issues, and are particularly important in heavily populated countries such as China. Rapid industrialisation and modernisation in China are having profound effects on food supply and food safety … Major sources of food poisoning in China include pathogenic microorganisms, toxic animals and plants entering the food supply, and chemical contamination. Meanwhile, two growing food safety issues are illegal additives and contamination of the food supply by toxic industrial waste. China’s connections to global agricultural markets are also having important effects on food supply and food safety within the country.”

Our favorite resource for information on food safety is foodsafetynews.com, which reported on July 11, 2014:

China’s Food Safety Issues Worse Than You Thought
“Food safety has always been an issue (in China) due to lack of knowledge about contamination and hygiene standards. Even in Beijing I can count on contracting food poisoning at least once a year, despite all my precautions. The problem is, buying anything here that is processed becomes a roll of the dice. Most Chinese believe the food safety system is thoroughly corrupt. Although there are protests, in general people say, “Mei ban fa,” or, “Nothing can be done.” This is the traditional Confucian attitude that teaches one to bend like a reed in the wind — never stand against it like a tree. I do know that almost everyone here believes that government officials have their own private farms to assure that their personal food supply is safe. People also widely believe that the government lies about its results in food testing to avoid panic and protest.” 

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That Day Hoarders Bought 9 Times As Much TP As Usual

| Apr 09, 2020

| By DEE-ANN DURBIN, AP Business Writer

What does toilet paper have to do with a global pandemic?

Nothing.

Yet millions of people have been panicking about their household supply. Stores shelves have been emptied. Amazon is often out of stock. And social media is bursting with jokes and pleas for a roll or two.

The good news: Things are calming down, at least in the U.S., after a buying spree in mid-March. But it’s not yet clear when — if ever — buying habits will get back to normal.

Here’s all you ever wanted to know about toilet paper during a pandemic:

WHY IS TOILET PAPER IN SHORT SUPPLY?

One reason is because people are hoarding. Some were stockpiling last month in advance of city and state lockdown orders. It’s a common reaction in times of a crisis, when consumers feel a need for control and security, says David Garfield, global leader of the consumer products practice at AlixPartners, a consulting firm.

NCSolutions, a data and consulting firm, said online and in-store U.S. toilet paper sales rose 51% between Feb. 24 and March 10, as buyers started getting uneasy about the growing number of virus cases.

But sales rocketed a whopping 845% on March 11 and 12 as states announced lockdown.

WHAT ARE SOME OTHER REASONS FOR THE SHORTAGES?

Toilet paper flows from paper mills to retail stores through a tight, efficient supply chain. Toilet paper is bulky and not very profitable, so retailers don’t keep a lot of inventory on hand; they just get frequent shipments and restock their shelves.

“You never noticed because it’s so well-managed,” said Jim Luke, an economics professor at Lansing Community College in Michigan, who used to be a strategist for a toilet paper distribution company.

The amount of toilet paper the average American uses hasn’t changed; it’s still around 141 rolls per year (compared to 134 rolls in Germany and just 49 rolls in China, AlixParters says). But even small changes in buying habits can throw everything into disarray.

With a regional disruption like a hurricane, stores can redirect some inventory to the affected area. But a global pandemic doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room.

CAN’T COMPANIES JUST MAKE MORE TOILET PAPER?

The big three U.S. toilet paper companies — Georgia-Pacific LLC, Proctor & Gamble Co. and Kimberly-Clark Corp. — were already running their toilet paper plants 24 hours a day before the new coronavirus hit. That’s the only way they can make a profit on such a low-margin product.

The companies are trying to increase output by making fewer varieties of toilet paper. They’re also trying to get the product to stores more quickly. Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific is working with packaging suppliers to get more materials and maximizing the number of deliveries it can ship from its facilities.

CAN SUPPLIES BE REDIRECTED TO HOUSEHOLDS INSTEAD OF BUSINESSES THAT ARE NOW CLOSED?

No. Commercial toilet paper uses a different kind of pulp and is produced on different machines. Many institutional rolls are intentionally larger, so cleaning staff don’t have to refill them as often and people don’t steal them, Luke said. Plusher toilet paper for home use also has different packaging requirements, Garfield said.

Prior to the coronavirus crisis, about half of U.S. toilet paper sales were commercial, while the other half were for homes, Garfield said. That’s changing; AlixPartners estimates U.S. household demand is up 40% as offices and schools close.

But Georgia-Pacific said commercial demand hasn’t yet fallen. It has seen a surge of orders from hospitals and other essential businesses that are still operating.

ARE SUPPLIES IN GROCERIES AND OTHER RETAILERS IMPROVING?

Demand has softened a bit since mid-March, so that should make it easier to find toilet paper. NCSolutions said sales are down 62% right now compared to the “extreme buying period” of March 11-24. But they’re still 6% higher than they were before the new coronavirus hit the U.S.

Kroger, the nation’s biggest grocery chain, said most of its stores are now getting truckloads of paper products every day or every other day. Kroger and other retailers have also established limits on the amount of toilet paper people can buy at one time.

WHEN WILL THINGS GET BACK TO NORMAL?

Nobody knows. For one thing, the new coronavirus could permanently increase the demand for household toilet paper.

“Will the workforce go back to work like they did before? If people work from home, this could be much more prolonged,” says NCSolutions CEO Linda Dupree.

Raising prices on toilet paper — as was done in 1973 during the oil embargo — might curb hoarding, Garfield said. But it would make it harder for some consumers to afford.

ARE THERE WAYS TO CUT DOWN ON TOILET PAPER USE?

U.S. searches for “bidet” reached an all-time high in March, according to Google Trends.

Tushy, which makes a $100 bidet attachment for toilets, said its sales spiked in mid-March, hitting $1 million in a single day. Sales are still running 10 times ahead of projections, Tushy said.

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