Toilet paper panic: Why Taiwan takes the cost of toilet paper so seriously

It's rumoured that people in Taiwan're now greeting one another by saying 'toilet paper'.

By Kayla Wong | March 2, 2018

Consumers in Taiwan are in a near panic over a shortage of one of modern life’s basic necessities: toilet paper.

Since supermarkets announced last Fri (Feb 23) that prices would be going up in the middle of March 2018, Taiwanese people have been scrambling to stock up on the household staple.

A rise in the price of pulp internationally was cited as the reason for the 10-30% rise in prices for toilet paper in Taiwan.

Shortage fears were so real that pulp and toilet paper stocks were boosted initially.

The wave of panic-buying has become so pervasive that BBC reported that the first thing some Taiwanese people say when they see one another is not “have you eaten?”, but rather, “have you bought toilet paper yet?”

Gotta wipe that butt

According to Focus Taiwan, after the price hike, consumers are expected to have to pay NT260 (~S$11.70) for every 12 pack of inter-fold toilet paper or tissue in one pack, up from the current NT$200 (~S$9).

The price hike can be quite significant to the average person as toilet paper is a household item that’s used almost every single day.

It’s a no wonder then that this has happened:

Cue the toilet paper zombie apocalypse, chiong ah!

Image via Costco好市多 商品經驗老實說/FB

People queuing up even before supermarkets opened. Are the Taiwanese people kiasu like Singaporeans?

Image via Costco好市多 商品經驗老實說/FB

Gotta load that all up

Image via 爆廢公社/FB

Here’s a video of people battling to get their hands on some toilet paper:

And here’s the aftermath.

Image via David Chang/EPA

Some shelves be looking lonely.

Image via 爆廢公社/FB

Really lonely.

Image via 爆廢公社/FB

Buying-frenzy in the virtual world too

Apple Daily reported that almost 5 million packs of toilet paper were sold on the popular e-commerce site PChome in just 3 days.

Reason for the price hike

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, toilet paper getting more expensive is a direct result of rising raw material costs globally.

Forest fires in Canada and disruption to production in Brazil are among the reasons cited.

As a result, the price of short fibre pulp, used to make toilet paper, is now about US$800 (~S$1,057) per tonne, compared with US$650 (~S$860) a year ago.

The costs are borne by the consumers.

But one of Taiwan’s largest toilet paper suppliers, YFY, says the situation is more drastic than that.

It also claims that pulp costs have increased “even faster than government estimates”, and that “packing and transportation costs are also rising”.

But why does Taiwan care so much about the cost of toilet paper?

The BBC has pointed out that the rising costs of such materials have not resulted in a rise in toilet paper price globally.

For instance, in the United States, it is expected that competition among the big players in common household goods — including toilet paper — will push prices down for consumers.

So why does the Taiwanese people care so much about the cost of toilet paper?

  • People are sensitive to the prices of staples 

According to The Economist, “wages in Taiwan have stagnated in recent years, making people more sensitive to the prices of staples.”

Additionally, in a typhoon-prone country, people have the habit of stockpiling commodities.

Toilet paper is also compact, and non-perishable, making it easy to stock pile.

  • Not green enough

Rising pulp prices are a global phenomenon, but affect Taiwan more than most rich countries.

This is because local toilet-paper producers use barely any recycled content.

But if pulp prices stay high, that may change.

Making toilet paper a political issue

This toilet-paper crisis adds to the challenges for President Tsai Ing-wen, whose approval rating has fallen sharply since she took office in 2016.

The main opposition party, the Kuomintang, says that if she cannot manage something as trivial as toilet paper, she cannot be trusted on bigger problems.

Unsurprisingly, she dismisses this allegation.

So, what’s being done now?

Costcos have initiated a limit to the number of packs customers can buy, with staff present to make sure no one takes more than they’re allowed.

The situation has gotten so out of hand that on Tues (Feb 27), Taiwan’s Premier William Lai had to tell people to remain calm and assure them that the supply is sufficient.

The Fair Trade Commission has also launched an investigation into the situation, as there’re suspicions that suppliers conspired to jointly raise the price.

Meanwhile in Singapore,  we have another sort of frenzy:

Police stops S$50 cash #3dollarballer vending machine at Raffles Place

Top image via Costco好市多 商品經驗老實說/FB & 爆廢公社/FB

About Kayla Wong

Kayla's dog runs her life.

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