Alex Russell, School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, Central Queensland University:
There are a few factors at play here. People aren’t only stockpiling toilet paper. All sorts of items are sold out, like face masks and hand sanitiser. Things like canned goods and other non-perishable foods are also selling well.
People are scared, and they’re bunkering down. They’re buying what they need and one of the items is toilet paper.
I think we’re noticing the toilet paper more than the other things because toilet paper packs are big items that take up a lot of shelf space. Seeing a small product sold out at the supermarket (such as hand sanitiser) is not that unusual, and it’s only a small hole in the shelf that is often temporarily filled with nearby products.
But if the toilet paper is gone, that’s a massive amount of shelf space that can’t readily be replaced with other things nearby.
A second reason we might be noticing it more is because there aren’t easy substitutions. If the supermarket is out of a particular ingredient for dinner, you can just get something else, or an entirely different dinner.
But if there’s not a roll of toilet paper, then that’s pretty frustrating for everyone. Sure, tissues or paper towels, but it’s not quite the same, is it?