The Water in a Bottle of Water

Bottle of Water, Chichen ItzaGot back from some vacation in the Mayan Riviera (near Cancun, Mexico). Had a lovely time. The structure in the background of the bottle is the amazing step pyramid at Chichen Itza.

In Mexico I encountered a familiar problem with bottled water that I face in India all the time – when you try to open a new bottle, you invariably spill some water. [Update: My experience in India is with Bisleri bottles primarily. A reader points out in the comments that there are other brands that don’t have this problem.]

There are two reasons for why this happens. One, the plastic wall of the bottle is thin. To unscrew the top, you need to grip the bottle hard, which squishes the bottle. When the top unscrews, the bottle is still a squished and the water gushes over. The second reason is that water in the bottle is filled right up to the top which gives no leeway at all when the bottle is squished.

In India and other emerging countries, keeping the costs is not so much about making a higher margin. It is about keeping the prices down so that you can capture a larger market. The food grade plastic used in the bottles is probably the largest variable cost for the bottler. It is no wonder he tries to minimize the amount of plastic per bottle.

That explains the thin plastic walls. And my guess is that it also explains why the water is filled all the way up to the top. The volume of water must be what it says on the bottle – 500 ml. or 1l. By filling the water all the way to the top the bottler can make the bottle just a wee bit smaller and save on the plastic.

The irony is that on account of these cost cutting measures, assuming that everyone spills a little water when opening the bottle for the first time, the consumer net, net, gets less water per rupee and the nuisance of cleaning up the spillage. On the other hand, it spares the earth – the plastics are petroleum products and aren’t biodegradable. Things are never black and white.

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8 Responses to The Water in a Bottle of Water

  1. Indian says:

    I disagree with the observations. Looks like you used those low quality mineral water that is available in railway stations. Check out the Aquafine, Kinley, Bisleri watter bottles. Some of them are even better than the ones in US!

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  2. dex says:

    yes, this is much more important that the fact that ground water is being depleted because of the heavy intake of the bottling companies. also you forgot to mention about the awkward click sound it makes when you open the bottle. they should put some music in there!

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  3. Kelpie says:

    There is huge amount of stuff on the bottles used by many of the 'mineral' water companies in India. Something that Coke and others tried to beat into the market. What I found worse was that you had to screw the damn cap off hard, in doing so much of your palms nicely wiped itself on the bottle mouth. . . making the exercise in purity useless!
    Folks, talking about packaging, I must confess the 'best' is Amul Cheese! Try and get the damn foil off as quickly as you can without any cheese in your nails and broken away. . . write to me if you do well!

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  4. ila says:

    Basab, none of the companies use virgin plastic for water bottles. Each of them use recycled materials. There's a whole industry out there that collects ONLY water bottles and sends it to a recycler. and incidentally, there's a 16 rupee gap between virgin and recycled plastic in india so indeed it is about bisleri's margins.____

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  5. Biswajit Jena says:

    I agree to your deduction in someway. However, I dont think the margin is somewhat directly related to the amount of plastic used in the bottle. I would say the food grade plastic quality is the one to blame. Not that, if you increase the amount of plastic used in the bottle will not solve the problem. It would also drive the cost upwards. But I believe, the companies are just buying lower quality plastic.

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  6. James says:

    My understanding with the bottles being thin, was that it is easy for the user to crush it after user, thereby trying to reduce the counterfeit in the market. I think Tata's Himalaya water bottle also is pretty thin, but definitely better than that of Bisleri.

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  7. anshuman says:

    Excellent observation that we all share but never bother about to even consider it as a problem.

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