This Is Where All the Toilet Paper Actually Went

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Some things don't make it into the blockbuster disaster movies we may know, love, or just plain worry about. While the heroes are off punching aliens and rescuing the president, somebody else is apparently out there stocking up on toilet paper. What other explanation is there for the sudden, ubiquitous sight of empty shelves at your favorite big box store or pharmacy?

While the bidet industry is taking this moment to make its pitch to Americans, journalist Will Oremus set out to find the nation's TP insiders — and get to the bottom of our least dignified problem. In short, we're not facing a nefarious cadre of price-gouging industrialists or extremely unglamorous entrepreneurs. Nobody's hoarding toilet paper, at least not en masse. Instead, we're butting up against a supply chain issue.

Think about paper goods as an industry: It's pretty steady, with few real surprises. Everyone needs toilet paper, both at home and at work. With significant portions of the workforce no longer going on-site for their jobs, however, there's a corresponding drop in demand for workplace toilet paper. You know the stuff: thin, gigantic, and basically barebones. As a population, we've shifted our behavior, and we're spending a lot more time at the place where we tend to seek out the nicer stuff.

That's the toilet paper that's flying off the shelves: cushioned, scented, and appealingly packaged with cartoon lumberjacks or bears. Paper goods manufacturers will spend some time reconfiguring their process, but in the meantime, makers of bidets might like to offer alternative suggestions.