Get the Podcast
Get the Podcast

You might be tired of hearing about toilet paper in this pandemic. But when we’re talking about the paper supply overall, there’s no getting around it. Virtually all paper products — from wedding invitations to cereal boxes — are in short supply as mills struggle to keep up with demand and shipping bottlenecks cause delays and problems for consumers and businesses.

“Everything is interconnected,” said Chris Tang, a professor at UCLA who studies global supply chain management. He says it comes down to paper pulp. It’s produced in mills, which are slowed down because of worker shortages.

And when there’s a demand surge for one product, like toilet paper, other production might be delayed: “Books, wrapping papers, toilet paper, cleaning paper, they’re all using paper,” Tang said.

Certain products that do get made take a while to reach their destinations because truck deliveries are still slow. In some cases, it only takes one piece of paper to create a bottleneck.

There’s still a paper shortage. You know what that means. There’s still a paper shortage. You know what that means.

Molly Fisher is a graphic artist in Sonoma County, California, who designs wine labels. She said you can’t sell wine without labels and boxes. “The product is there, but they can’t get the packaging.”

She recently created a label for a sparkling wine that her clients were hoping to sell for New Year’s Eve. “They’re ready to bottle it, they have the glass, they have everything they need, but the printer can’t get the paper,” Fisher said.

If they’re lucky the bubbly will be labeled and ready to go for Valentine’s Day.

Meanwhile, prices keep going up. In August, paper cost 50% more than it did at the same time last year. “And that is going to increase the price of products when we encounter them on the shelf,” said Chuck Howard, assistant professor of marketing at Texas A&M University.

Howard doesn’t see the paper shortage easing up any time soon, especially with the holiday season coming. But in some cases that might mean shoppers look for alternatives.

With books, for example, “you can just go out and buy the Kindle version,” Howard said.

But he also said alternatives are harder when it comes to some paper products. Like — and here we are again — toilet paper.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.