This article originally appeared on VICE AU.
Let’s get one thing straight: the toilet paper crisis is stupid. Why, of all things, are people stockpiling toilet paper during an epidemic that affects respiratory systems and not gastrointestinal plumbing (read: it doesn’t make you shit). On top of that you can’t eat toilet paper, you can’t drink toilet paper, and you can’t even use it to fuel your car or heat your home. It’s a single purpose product that's untailored for this situation, and yet people are fighting each other in supermarket aisles for it.
So what is going on? Why are people so determined to stockpile toilet paper? To find out, we stopped by Woolies and Costco at the crack of dawn to interview people buying large amounts of toilet paper. None of them wanted to be in photos so we snapped shots of their trolleys and talked prepping.
VICE: Hi Lily, why are you buying so much toilet paper?
Lily: I’m buying this because I can see everyone panicking, so I’m also panicking [laughs]. I would say I’m buying all this for the sake of precaution. It’s important to maintain hygiene, you know with the virus and all that. It’s not worth risking your life above all things.
But as far as I know, the virus doesn’t actually change your gastrointestinal habits though.
Well yes, but… you know.
No, I don’t know.
I just know all my friends are going crazy over toilet paper. Every single one, even people at work. And all my relatives overseas as well, everyone’s very concerned about this situation.
Have you heard that toilet paper being resold on eBay?
Yes, and that’s horrible. It’s very, very upsetting. People are taking advantage of other people, there’s no compassion at all. I would even go as far to say that’s absolutely criminal.
Hey Hayden, tell us. Why are you stockpiling toilet paper?
I’m scared that other people will buy it all out before me, and when I actually need it I’ll have run out. I’ve also got five other siblings who each have families of their own, so I’m buying some for all of them.
But why toilet paper specifically, instead of anything else?
There’s no shortage of food, well at least for now. For some odd reason, everyone’s just after toilet paper right now.
Why do you think that’s the case?
I don't know, it’s just in demand right now for some reason, so I’ve got to get some. If you want to use it, you have to get it. It’s a luxury item, man.
What prompted you to go buy toilet paper? Was there a particular news report?
It was mainly the news going crazy about it. Oh, but also all the stuff you see on social media–Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all the news channels on TV.
Are you worried that this virus is going to get much worse?
As of right now, I'm not that worried. Maybe a 5/10.
Hey Danny, why are you buying all this toilet paper?
Because we're all idiots. Legit.
Do you think the toilet paper crisis is a herd mentality thing?
100 percent. I feel like it's a lot of unnecessary panic and just the general fear of missing out. There's no way people are using toilet paper that fast. What, does everyone have chronic diarrhoea all of a sudden?
But you've also got three packs of toilet paper there.
I'm literally out of toilet paper at home. Also, Costco has a 1 pack per person rule now–at this store at least. I'm here with my two other mates–one’s pushing the cart next to me, the other one’s still picking up more food. We're picking this all up now so we never have to come back to this hellhole.
There’s a bunch of food in your cart–are you stockpiling any, or are you just hungry?
We’re just hungry...
Are you guys getting anything else besides toilet paper?
I mean, we're also getting a ton of Costco danishes. That shit is fire. I might go get that giant bottle of pretzels actually, I’ll be right back.
Hi Ashley, why do you think Australians are buying toilet paper of all things?
I think they’re just scared. They’re scared they can’t leave their house and they’ll run out. It’s some type of group panic thing that’s going on. I’m buying mine here just because we’ve actually just run out.
What do you think was the main thing that sparked this panic?
Definitely the news for sure. I think the news has got everyone so scared of this coronavirus and now they’re just doing silly things like with this toilet paper episode.
Are any of your friends panic-buying toilet paper?
Not that I know of–but I could probably think of one or two people that might be stockpiling in secret.
How worried are you that the virus is going to get out of control?
I’m not very worried about that at all at the moment, maybe more so for this little one here [points to her baby riding in the shopping trolley]. Maybe if I was pregnant, I’d be more worried. I think I’m more concerned that diapers will go out of stock in the future.
On that note, do you think people should be stockpiling anything at all?
Absolutely not. But look, if I was to stockpile anything, it’d be food, baby food, water, and medicine. I just don’t get the whole toilet paper thing.
Hey Jon, what’re your thoughts on the whole toilet paper fiasco?
Well, we’re buying it because we’re nearly out, so we actually need it. It’s just a bit frustrating having to queue here for one pack of it. We’ve got no clue as to why everyone’s buying it though.
What would your best guess be for the reason behind it all?
Well, it’d have to be because of the virus, but I don’t get why toilet paper. I used to live in places that were always prone to natural disasters, and no one stocked up on toilet paper there. People stock up on food, water, torches, candles, that sort of thing. I’ve never stocked up on toilet paper in my life. If you thought the world was going to end, why would you need to have a clean ass? I don’t get it.
Do you have any friends who are overreacting to the virus?
I don’t think so. A lot of us work in health fields, so we’re pretty up to date on the situation. We know the mortality rate is pretty low, so it can’t really kill us. It’ll just be like a cold for us, really.
How worried are you about the virus in general?
I’m not worried at all, man. I’m just waiting for flight tickets to go down even more, so I can go travelling. Honestly, I could not be less concerned about it. I follow a ton of sports, so I’m actually more worried about sports getting cancelled over it.
Have you heard about toilet paper going for crazy prices on eBay and Gumtree?
I haven’t, that’s news to me. How much are they going for?
Some are going for hundreds of dollars, and as of this moment, someone’s just put up one roll for a thousand dollars too–but probably as a joke.
I guess I’m going to sell some tonight then–that’s fantastic. Man, I was thinking I’d sell a pack for maybe 10 or 15 dollars, but now I’m going to have to do some proper research now, hey?