You are here

Covid-19 panic buying could lead to sewage blockages - WWT

  • 6 April 2020
  • ckearns

A leading supply chain academic has warned that panic buying of toilet paper during the Covid-19 outbreak could lead to alternatives being used and the subsequent blockage of sewage systems.

Professor Richard Wilding OBE says that during the panic buying of toilet paper and other tissue products it is unlikely that consumers are considering the consequences of using alternative products for the tasks they were not designed for.  

Thames Water is already warning its customers not to use kitchen towel as a substitute for toilet paper. 

Professor Richard Wilding OBE, Professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management, said: “We are seeing shortages of toilet paper but worryingly also shortages of paper kitchen towels and industrial paper towel used for example, in garages and workshops and other wipe products. 

If kitchen towels, baby wipes or industrial papers are used as a replacement for toilet paper, our sewage systems could readily become blocked with the resulting chaos and increased health risks associated with this. Ultimately, water companies may not have the infrastructure and equipment to unblock the sewer system. 

Professor Wilding cited a further example of substitutes being purchased is the panic buying of dust masks.  

As shortages in pharmacies and chemists start to bite, consumers are reported to be turning to building hardware suppliers for face masks and body suits. This means builders, tilers and plasterers or other workers who regularly use masks for protection against airborne particulate matter, for instance, are struggling to get hold of this equipment from certain suppliers. 

He adds: “The issue where a seemingly unrelated supply chain channel causes disruption is known as a ‘supply chain parallel interaction’. In this case, the consumer supply of medical face masks is drying up, so customers turn to industry sources. Similarly, the substitution of kitchen towels for toilet paper will have a knock-on effect of disrupting the sewage treatment supply chain – causing shortages in their supply chain as a knock-on effect and disrupting a seemingly unrelated industry." 

You can keep up to date with the latest on how the water sector is responding to the coronavirus outbreak by visiting