Photo by Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
If you’ve gone to the grocery store or tried to shop online recently, you may have noticed that some items are completely out of stock or hard to get. Things like toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer are vanishing as soon as they hit the shelves. The reason this is happening is that people are scared that they won’t have what they need to survive while in quarantine. This phenomenon is called panic-buying, and it actually does a lot more harm than good.
The first issue is the effect that panic buying has on the environment. When people buy a ton of factory-produced items, more items have to be made faster, meaning that more greenhouse gasses are produced. Also, many of the items that people are buying in bulk are disposable, so by using excessive amounts of them we are creating a lot more unnecessary waste. There are tons of household items that can be reused and sterilized easily, without wasting resources and limiting resources for other people.
Another issue is the disadvantages that people in low-income households face when richer people buy excessive amounts of products. For example, those that have WIC (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) or food stamps are only able to purchase specific goods with what they are given. If people buy everything that they’re able to purchase, those with food stamps and WIC are left with nothing. Others can go buy similar and less desirable products or more expensive products, but they are often unable to afford those. If you are buying an in-demand item, please check for the WIC logo or food stamp logo before you buy something, so that those in need can still receive their share.
The last issue is the effect that panic buying has on health care professionals. Many people that don’t work in healthcare are buying disposable gloves, masks (including N95 masks), and cleaning agents that they don’t really need. To put this into perspective, my father, who works as a doctor, was at first given no mask at all while at work and is now only given one surgical mask a day. Surgical masks do not protect wearers from COVID-19 in the same way that N95 masks do. Normally, he would have to change his mask after every patient, but now he cannot do that. Meanwhile, countless people are sitting at home with their own personal masks that they don’t even use correctly. Although it is recommended that you wear a mask in public places, you don’t need to buy one hundred masks for your three-person family. Making cloth masks in your free time might be a better option, and will give you something to do. People like my dad that see dozens of patients a day need masks and gloves.
The purpose of this article is not to shame or chastise anybody, but rather simply to bring attention to a very large issue that is being overlooked. It’s okay to be scared, but it’s important to be mindful and empathetic too. Our resources are limited, so we all need to come together and agree to take our share. Recognize your privilege if you get to stay at home, and thank the essential workers that can’t. We’re all in this together, as long as we think of each other.