Depending on where you get your data, Americans use anywhere from 50 to 100 rolls of toilet paper per household, per year. That’s a lot of toilet paper. Based on the current Coronavirus pandemic and panic-buying, it sounds like some people will have enough for the next 10 years. If that is you, stop hoarding.
First things first: You need to know how much toilet paper you use or are likely to use with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders. Two students in the United Kingdom (UK) decided to help solve this worldwide question with a new calculator on their site: How Much Toilet Paper?! – The Coronavirus Toilet Paper Calculator.
how much toilet paper
Ben Sassoon and Sam Harris
Besides the fact that the TP Calculator might make you chuckle, it works and gives you a rough estimate based on rolls you have and toilet visits per day. Plus it has some “advanced” features (if you can imagine that you need to be far more serious about this) such as: Average number of wipes per trip, sheets per wipe, sheets on roll, people in household, and finally, days of quarantine.
The creators of the site, Ben Sassoon and Sam Harris, told me today that they didn’t start it to make money, but saw it as a useful service and something they could do. They didn’t realize how expensive it can get to cover the costs of servers and other parts of running a small internet site that explodes with traffic (with over eight million users to date from all over the world, but mainly in the U.S.). They are covering costs via the few ads on the site, but they also appreciate when people click the “Buy Me A Coffee” donation button which gives them some encouragement in the midst of doing this and preparing for final exams at university.
It is so important for readers to know the USA will have enough toilet paper and that these shortages may be specific, denser areas of the country. But more supply is coming. Read: Forbes staff writer, Carlie Porterfield sums it up in this post: Here’s Why The Toilet Paper Shortage Is Only Temporary.
What To Do If You Are Running Low Or Out Of Toilet Paper
Popular Mechanics has one of the best posts on toilet paper alternatives and strong talk for the wrong ones, like t-shirts: So You’ve Run Out of Toilet Paper. What Else Will Flush? Our handy guide to plumbing during a pandemic (Coronavirus). Jennifer Leman tells you more than you likely ever wanted to think about on this topic.
The two Popular Mechanics recommendations I will share here that come complete with a toilet icon bullet point in their post (with my notes, unfortunately, to be as clear as possible):
🚽 Wipes, paper towels, napkins, tissues, and toilet seat covers. (TJ note: some thicker tissues will not break down as easily as toilet paper, so use carefully and keep the layers as thin as possible. Also, some “flushable” wipes are not actually that septic or sewer-friendly, either. I make no guarantees you will not back up your toilet or septic or hear from your city or county!)
🚽 Rags and hand towels. Just make sure you wash them in hot water (TJ note: DO NOT flush them. While this idea bothers some, if you have had children or ever changed a diaper, it is not that big of a deal to handle carefully and clean out. Sorry to suggest this at all, but the reality is running out of toilet paper is not the worst thing that can happen to you. You will manage through this crisis without TP if it comes to it, I promise.)
Again remember, before using these or any alternative options, “think thin” about what will flush and not clog your toilet, your septic, or the public waste services. We can discuss a whole bunch of technical details, but basically, the only thing that should go in your toilet is from your body AND toilet paper. That’s it. T-shirts are a big no-no.
People are flushing t-shirts and other items that should not be flushed and, well, it causes more than a problem for a number of people. Anything thicker than TP is a problem. T-shirts, in particular, will clog filters and the thicker strands (if you cut it up) will sometimes wrap around a motor or another object creating a bigger obstacle to normal flow (not just from your pipes, but even the bigger waste pipes). If you think “that’s not my problem let the waste treatment guys handle it,” you may regret it when your toilet backs up and you pay the plumber a large sum of money to fix it.
Let’s modify the old saying, Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) and change it to “Flusher Beware.”
One last, lighthearted note: The Great Toilet Paper Panic is a short documentary done by The Atlantic that will, hopefully, make you laugh a bit in these challenging times.