The Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020

I know everyone is preoccupied (and rightly so) with the current COVID-19 pandemic, but I have had another global crisis on my mind these last few weeks–the apparent worldwide toilet paper shortage.  The toilet paper situation has intrigued me because, here in Ecuador, we have plenty of toilet paper. The shelves are completely stocked, and there is no evidence of the hoarding that has been reported in countries such as the USA, UK, Australia, and Western Europe in general.  So as I’ve talked to friends and family “back home” and heard their woes of having to scavenge for toilet paper, I was perplexed by why the so called “Developed World” was having such a shortage, while here in the Global South (e.g. “Developing World”), we are well stocked and wiping away!  

Colombia

After having this dichotomy nag at me for several weeks, I did a bit of googling this morning which resulted in a Eureka! moment. Here’s what I learned:  it’s all about the supply chain. The toilet paper industry is not homogenous–it is split into two distinct markets: commercial and consumer. The commercial market toilet paper is a completely different product than the consumer rolls that most Americans use in their households. 

Commercial toilet paper, typically sold in large rolls that are delivered on pallets, are usually made from lower quality, recycled paper. The way that it is produced and distributed is so different from consumer paper, that most toilet paper manufacturers only produce commercial OR consumer–not both.  

Consumer paper on the other hand, is usually made from virgin fiber, are thicker, softer, and come on conveniently small rolls, sold in packages of 8 or 12.  I’m talking about your typical Charmin or Quilted Northern that you would buy at your supermarket.  

So, why is the distinction between consumer and commercial so important in understanding the current shortage of toilet paper?  Well, currently, about 75% of the population in affected countries are staying at home under shelter in place or quarantine orders.  According to Georgia-Pacific, the average household will use 40% more toilet paper than usual in their homes while they are staying home from work/school.  Normally, people go to work or school or restaurants throughout most of the day and use commercial paper in those institutions. Now, however, everyone is at home boosting the demand of consumer paper.  And that, my friends, explains the shortage in the USA etc. There might be some hoarding going on as well, but a lot of the shortage goes back to supply and demand and the logistics of the industry.  

Now, the second part of my Eureka! moment brings us to the dichotomy of the shortages in more developed countries and the business-as-usual plethora here in Ecuador.  In Ecuador, as in most of the Global South, everyone has to bring their own toilet paper to use in most places outside of their home. Here, you don’t leave the house without a hearty wad of TP from your own consumer supply because restrooms in offices, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. do not supply free toilet paper.  We take it for granted in the States that if you walk into a public restroom or the bathroom in your office that it will be stocked with a roll of (usually) commercial toilet paper. Down here, that is a luxury we do not have. Therefore, the demand for consumer toilet paper has not drastically increased due to the entire population being in lockdown in their homes, because we always had to supply 24 hours/day’s worth of toilet paper for ourselves anyway–regardless of where we were doing our business.  Our supply and demand remains in equilibrium.  

This may seem insignificant to some people, but I find it fascinating how this global crisis is transforming our world and teaching us about the nuts and bolts of how our society and economy operates.  It is terrifying and devastating, but it is also so interesting to learn about things that we have taken for granted and never given thought to, e.g. toilet paper supply chains and demand disparities across cultures.  So much is changing in our world and it is happening so fast. Even the ripple effects feel like tsunamis; so I hope you are all hanging in there, that you are safe, healthy, and have plenty of toilet paper.  

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Empowering Women of Nepal

Rayna and I are really excited to be partnering with Empowering Women of Nepal (EWN), a non-profit company, based in Pokhara, Nepal; which aims to improve the lives of Nepali women and girls through adventure sports and tourism.  EWN was founded by three Nepali sisters who have been pioneers in the promotion of female trekking guides in the Himalayas. I trekked the Annapurna Circuit with an EWN trained guide, and it was an incredible experience. I am a testament that EWN truly does empower women–and not only Nepali, but women from around the world who trek with them.  Stay tuned for future posts to read more about my experience in Nepal! For now here is a little more about EWN’s Female Trekking Guide Training Program…

Twice a year during the trekking off-season, EWN offers an intensive four-week Female Trekking Guide Training Program. The average age of the participants is 20 and, for optimal results, the maximum group size is 40 trainees. The objective is to have participants from different regions of Nepal and especially disadvantaged women from rural areas (Karnali Region, Everest, and Langtang).

From 1999 to 2019 EWN trained over 2000 women from 52 districts of Nepal.

EWN’s 4 week intensive course includes:

  • Basic English Conversation
  • Trekking and Tourism
  • Culture and Religion
  • Geography
  • Map Reading
  • Leadership and Team Building
  • Cross Cultural Communication
  • Mountain Culture and People
  • Conservation and the Environment
  • Women’s Issues
  • Women’s Human Rights
  • Women’s Health

Trainees undergo an intensive four-week program on technical and conversational English, which also covers a broad range of topics including First Aid (HIV-AIDS, STD, women’s health issues), leadership, women’s rights, trekking information, environment, history, geography, and culture.

The training also emphasizes ecological awareness and conservation, including water sanitation and waste management. As participants develop into adventure tourism professionals, they communicate the ecologically sound practices they learn at EWN to their clients. For example they promote iodine purification methods, rather than relying on mineral water with its attendant plastic bottles which litter the Himalayas.

At the end of the initial training, EWN’s partner organization, 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, provides a five month paid apprenticeship program where the girls acquire field experience by working as trainee guides. From their apprenticeship they gain immediate economic benefits by earning wages equivalent to experienced male porters, and they develop the skills needed to emerge as independent entrepreneurs. Over 100 guides are now employed by 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking each trekking season.

After they finish the training cycle, the majority of alumni find work in the adventure tourism industry; some become micro-entrepreneurs, some continue with higher education, some continue with EWN refresher courses, some leave for work abroad and some return to their villages and spread the word about the program to their friends and neighbors.

We are honored and very excited to be partnering with EWN to offer a Women’s trekking trip in November 2020.  Click here for more information

Human Nature’s Indigenous Community Partners

Human Nature works with quite a few communities in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nepal, and Cuba.  We value our personal relationships with the people of these communities, and are passionate about giving our travelers the opportunities to create their own relationships across cultures.  This is a vital part of our mission, but also a delicate one. We are very conscious of our impact within communities and the effect of globalization on the indigenous people we visit. While we encourage cultural exchange, we by no means want to “whitewash” the communities we visit, and we certainly don’t ever want to exploit them.  We have designed our programs to maximize the value of our trips for the local communities, and to encourage learning and respect for their cultures, languages, and traditions. We promote authentic interaction with communities, not just photo opportunities.  

All that being said, here’s a very quick look at just 3 of the indigenous communities that we work within Ecuador. Stayed tuned for more information of communities in other destinations.  

Sinchi Warmi:  Sinchi Warmi is a woman-lead community of Amazonian Kichwa people.  “Sinchi Warmi” means “Strong Women” in the Kichwa language, and in this amazing, close-knit community, women are not just respected, they are the bosses.  The men also play an important role in the community and are valued as well, but it is the women who lead the community. They are dedicated to sustainable development and sharing their traditional way of life with travelers who come to stay with them.  They have a cocoa farm where visitors can help make their own chocolate. Sinchi Warmi is a fascinating balance of managing volunteer tourism with their ancestral way of life in the Amazon Basin.  

Tsachila: The Tsachila of Santo Domingo, also known as “los Colorados”, are a vibrant and distinct indigenous group in Ecuador.  Santo Domingo is nestled in the tropics between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Coast, and is their ancestral homeland.  The men are easily recognizable, as they have a uniform hair style that is shaved on the sides and back and then slicked forward on top and painted bright red with achiote seeds.  The men wear black, blue, and white woven skirts and no shirts, while the women wear brightly colored striped skirts. They also paint their bodies with black horizontal lines. They speak Tsafiki, their native tongue, and their shamans are renowned for their healing power and knowledge of medicinal herbs and remedies.  

Today, there are only about 2,000 Tsachilas who maintain their traditional way of life, the sum total of 8 communities.  GATA has a close relationship with one of these communities and work closely with them on their sustainable development projects.  Visiting the Tsachila is a truly unique and special experience, as this vibrant and endangered culture is so special and has an incredible history.  

Andean Kichwa:  There are many varieties of Kichwa culture and languages in Ecuador and across the broader region of northwest South America.  Kichwa is a Quechuan language that connects its many speakers under one umbrella, but the millions of Kichwa speakers actually form many distinct cultures and across geographic regions.  The language itself has more than a dozen different dialects, depending on region. The indigenous people I am referring to now are those that live in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Even in this specific region, there are distinct communities and dialects, but also many commonalities.  

Kichwa people are the most populous of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, with over one million people still using their traditional language and dress.  Women wear long, wrapped woolen skirts–either navy blue or black, with white blouses, colorful woven belts, red or gold necklaces, and white closed toe sandals.  Men also where the closed toed sandals and grow their hair long and keep it in a single braid. The Andean Kichwa people traditionally live off of subsistence farming, planting corn and “chochos” on steep mountainsides.  GATA partners with several of these traditional farming communities to bring travelers to live and work alongside Kichwa. There is much to learn from their ancient culture, as well as how they have adapted to survive in the modern world.  Today, many Kichwa live in big cities and are very visible in daily modern Ecuadorian life. They have retained their traditional way of dress, culture, and language while adapting and living in a modern globalized world.