From HK to Singapore to Japan to UK to Australia, why are people so kancheong about toilet paper?

By March 10, 2020Current

TL;DR – Don’t laugh, but stocking up on toilet rolls makes us feel like we’re in control.

We saw it in Hong Kong, where there was panic buying of toilet rolls at the supermarkets. In fact, an armed gang even stole more than US$130b worth of toilet paper last month.

It also happened in Japan.


And of course, I wouldn’t miss out Singapore, oh dear Singapore.

Remember that mad weekend where some people went all out at supermarkets and buying up instant noodles, toilet rolls and apparently, condoms too?

Before you go thinking that #toiletpapercrisis and #toiletpapergate are exclusive to Asia and Asians, nope.

It happened in the UK too.

By now, am sure you would have heard about Australia too.


And oh, that by-now-also-very-viral clip of women fighting over toilet rolls in a Woolsworth supermarket down under too.

Hehe, this one’s complete with commentary from a rather excited man.


No time to watch everything?

Then the South China Morning Post has also put together a rather nice clip of the #toiletpaper gate story in different parts of the world.


So now, let’s try to unscrambled the scramble for toilet rolls everywhere.

Unsubstantiated rumours

There were rumours that toilet paper factories were converting to making mask since there is so much demand for surgical masks all over the world. Hence, people were (in fact, some still are) worried that there would be a shortage later on.

Fact is the materials used to produce surgical face masks are different from those used in the manufacture of toilet paper. Masks are made from non-woven fabric, while toilet paper is made from staple fiber pulp and used paper.

And then there were also rumours that due to the COVID-19 outbreak in China, some Chinese (toilet paper) factories would be closed, thus affecting supply. I understand that China is one of the key suppliers of toilet rolls to the world.

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Maybe there is legitimate cause for concern about this for Hong Kong since most of their supply comes from China. But I have no idea why Singapore, Japan and Australia are worried. For Singapore, we get most of our supply from Malaysia, For Japan, local production feeds almost all of the country’s needs, and they are able to increase supply if need be. As for Australia, it’s even more bewildering as most of their toilet rolls for domestic use comes from South Australia!

So please, don’t spread fake news and don’t believe everything you read on the internet or receive on Whatsapp.

Unsubstantiated claims should be handled with caution. Panic buying and hoarding can cause huge disruption to the entire supply china and yes, they will be the causes of shortage if everyone starts hoarding.

Don’t laugh, but stocking up on toilet rolls makes us feel like we’re in control

See, COVID-19 is a new virus, it’s invisible and we know quite little about it. We all fear the unknown, and this outbreak and the spread of the virus make us feel like we’ve no control and are exposed to the risk. It makes many people feel “exposed and vulnerable”. So buying toilet rolls is an action that we can actually take now.

It “helps” too that the size of toilet rolls is big and we feel that it’s a rather substantial purchase and it makes us feel safe, that we’re doing something big for the situation.

So in the same way as buying and wearing masks do for some people, buying toilet rolls makes us feel like we’re taking some action against the virus. Strange as it may sound, it alleviates some of our fear and anxiety, and yes, it helps us regain control. At least in our heads.

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Toilet paper is also cheap, easily stockpiled and doesn’t spoil easily

What “aggravates” the situation is that toilet paper is quite cheap, easily bought and stored at home. People are also more encouraged to buy it since they don’t deteriorate. And yeps, for sure we will run out some time and will need toilet paper down the road. So in a way, it is a relatively low cost item that we can buy for “peace of mind”.

Some people might even think to buy some and keep just in case we get quarantined or something.

Toilet rolls are bulky in-store display

It’s all about the optics.

See, toilet rolls are relatively “big” items when it comes to store display, so the supermarket shelf itself also sends signals. Once shelves are cleared of toilet paper, the optics are powerful. The shelves look empty really quickly and this triggers human beings’ perception of scarcity. Truth is the situation looks worse than it actually is. I mean, how many toilet rolls can the shelves take? And once say a dozen people (or even fewer) buy a few rolls each, the shelves will be empty.

Say you’re at the supermarket and you see that the shelves are empty. And then the store assistants start restocking. Wouldn’t it just cross your mind to just buy one or two rolls… you know, just in case? #FOMO

Sure, we can blame social media too

And yeps, social media amplifies this fear of missing out (#FOMO). It can be quite hard not to notice or feel affected upon which seeing image after image of empty shelves, cleared of toilet paper.

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Chill, people, chill

I came across an article that reported the world’s number 2 supplier of toilet rolls, Vinda International Holdings, has clarified that the shortage rumours hold no water, and that the company would resume work next week at its Hubei factory in China, right on track to churn out 1.3 million tonnes of paper this year.

Its CEO told the South China Morning Post that whatever shortage reported at the shops were “actually created by panic buying, rather than the ability of the industry to provide products.” He also gave some solid advice,

“People should not believe everything they read on social media.”

(I know, I’m as curious as you what the world’s number 1 supplier would say, LOL!)

Meanwhile, over here on our little island Singapore, we have NTUC FairPrice to count on, and yeps, they have been assuring and reassuring that they have stocks and there’s no need to hoard and stockpile.

Don’t believe me?

Well, our Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, has made a visit at NTUC FairPrice’s Benoir Distribution Centre over the weekend.

During the visit, he also shared with the media about how the Government is reviewing our stockpiles of essential items and also on the importance of diversifying our supply sources.




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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Aiden says:

    “… COVID-19 is a new virus, hence the word “corona”“

    Just like to point out that corona doesn’t mean new. You confused it with the early name of the virus, which was referred to as “Novel Coronavirus” where “Novel” means new.

    Coronavirus is named as such due to the appearance of the virus which looks like a crown or Solar corona. Corona means crown in Latin.