Why Are Australian Supermarkets Running Out of Toilet Paper and Other Groceries, and Should I be Worried?

If you’re currently living in Australia, you might have read on the news (or experienced in real life!) that supermarkets across the country are selling out of toilet paper, grocery staples such as rice and pasta, hand sanitiser and antiseptic products.

So, why is this happening? And what can you do about it?

What’s happening?

As a result of the media reporting on COVID-19 coronavirus, particularly news of toilet paper shortages in countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, Australians have started stocking up on groceries to avoid similar experiences. 

As reported by the ABC, international news about COVID-19’s impact is causing Australians to fear the same will happen here, so they are preparing in advance. In other words, people are ‘panic-buying’. 

As toilet paper is light and bulky, only a limited amount is stored at supermarkets. When demand increases dramatically, as it has now, replacement takes longer, which is why there are empty shelves.

Do you need to worry?

No. It is important to note that the countries with reports of shortages have a much higher number of COVID-19 cases, and Australia is employing several measures to avoid the number growing. There is no need to go out of your way to stock up on groceries at this time.

Should I start bulk-buying toilet paper?

No. As the majority of Australia’s toilet paper is produced domestically in South Australia, you won’t need to worry about any toilet paper shortages. It is recommended that you think rationally about your purchases. If you use four rolls in a week, buy eight – enough to cover you for two weeks.

Should I start stockpiling food?

Maybe, but you don’t need to go crazy. In a statement to Channel 7, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said:

“Declaring a global pandemic doesn’t change what we do, it is a label that says there’s sustained community transmission in several countries.

“It is perfectly safe for Australians to go about their daily business and do exactly what they would normally do.

“Australians can be safe in the knowledge that we are well prepared and considering every outcome.”

In saying that, if you do feel better knowing you’ve got a decent supply of tinned, dried and frozen food, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Anyway, bulk-buying certain pantry staples, such as rice and pasta, often works out cheaper than buying smaller amounts more often. Similarly, it always helps to have food frozen ready to go for when you finish studying late and can’t be bothered cooking, and it doesn’t hurt to have some cans of soup ready to go for when you’re feeling lazy.

What can I do?

If you’re worried about your grocery supply, there are options to shop online. Coles and Woolworths offer grocery delivery services right to your door, while companies such as Who Gives a Crap home-deliver 100% recycled toilet paper (they’re sold out at the moment, but once the panic-buying slows down, they’re a great, environmentally-friendly company to support).