Looking back at the initial days of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a nationwide panic-buying of toilet paper in the United States.
The toilet paper shortage has left people to substitute other paper forms for their lavatory needs.
These other kinds of paper, such as paper towels, facial tissues, and baby wipes, were not designed to break down in the water, and so when people flush them, the pipes and sewers become clogged.
The initial situation didn’t seem likely to ease anytime soon, and water infrastructure managers were pleading with the public to stop flushing these other kinds of paper.
The New York Times reports on the California State Water Resources Control Board’s reaction:
“Flushing wipes, paper towels, and similar products down toilets will clog sewers and cause backups and overflows at wastewater treatment facilities, creating an additional public health risk in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” it said.
The agency said wastewater treatment plants across California were reporting problems.
It noted that most urban sewage systems depended on gravity and water flow to move toilet paper and waste. These systems were not designed to accommodate disinfectant wipes and paper towels because they do not break down easily and clog the system.
The Board noted that clogged sewer lines are more than just a headache for residents cooped up in their homes during a pandemic. Spills flow into lakes, rivers, and oceans, where they can harm public health and the environment, it said.
This problem of toilet-paper shortage escalated over weeks and months. The shortage was not exclusive to toilet papers but the overall supply of paper and paper products like wedding invitations to cereal boxes.
Marketplace reported that problems in the supply chains cause toilet paper shortages. Paper mills overseas struggled to keep up with rising demands, aggravated by shipping bottlenecks.
The start of the pandemic was an observation of society’s behavior.
If people don’t stop flushing other kinds of paper and sewers become dysfunctional, what can be done to solve this issue?
Changed public behaviors can put considerable strain on infrastructure networks and systems.
Authorities can manage these behavioral changes operationally through increased cleaning and checking schedules, improved communication with the public, and public education around the issues being created.