Why Are There Still Not Enough Paper Towels?

Georgia-Pacific

Excerpt originally published by The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 21, 2020reprinted with paid permission

Deb Coduto runs plants that make paper towels. The town of Naheola, Ala., where she spends much of her time overseeing a Georgia-Pacific LLC paper-products factory, hadn’t yet felt the coronavirus when orders from retailers started rising in late February.

Retailers ordered five times their normal amount of paper towels one week, and the next week 10 times more, Ms. Coduto recalls. She felt a sense of foreboding.

“I read about other countries getting hit by the virus, and some of the panic and fear,” she said.

Sparkle paper towels come off the line at Georgia-Pacific’s plant in Naheola, Ala.

She and the nearly 1,000 workers at the Georgia-Pacific plant, which makes Sparkle paper towels and was already running 24/7, began hunting for ways to increase output. With tactics such as cutting varieties to reduce line changeover time, they eventually managed to raise its production about 25%, still not enough to meet all the orders. Ms. Coduto was often at the plant from 5 a.m. to late evening.

The coronavirus reached her region in April. “If there’s anything that keeps me up at night, it’s how to keep everyone safe,” she said. “You’re questioning everything you’re doing, trying to keep the virus out of the workplace.” The plant has had a few workers test positive and quarantine but has stayed open.

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