27 Oktober 2004

Biodegradable plastic: The genius in a bottle

An Ouray man nixes petroleum for a biodegradable alternative that holds water and promise

In a world battling over dwindling supplies of petroleum and water, David Zutler reckons he has found the perfect product.

In the southwestern Colorado city of Ouray, Zutler bottles spring water in special corn-based bottles that disappear after three months in a landfill, or more quickly through incineration or recycling. His Biota water-bottling plant hopes to employ 115 workers in five years, which would make it the biggest employer in Ouray since the mining days.

The landfill decomposition compares with the roughly 700-year decomposition required for petroleum-based bottles. The water, bottled from a large spring wedged beneath 13,000-foot peaks, arrives on shelves of local Wild Oats stores today.

Biota, an acronym for Blame It On The Altitude, is a late entry in the water business. At least 60 types are sold in the U.S. alone. But Zutler, 53, said the niche for Biota is more than just Colorado water.

“This is for the planet-friendly buyer,” he said. “The message we are trying to get across to the world is that when you buy Biota, you are buying a planet-friendly product.”

Zutler and his brother, Michael, have embarked on many entrepreneurial ventures.

In the late ’70s, they started a home-security company in Aspen. Then, after a stint providing personal security to Hollywood types, they built a real-estate firm in Telluride just as the Mountain Village community and an airport opened.

David Zutler saw international potential for a bottle of Colorado water a decade ago. So began his search for a spring.

Eight years ago, he found what he calls a “true protected source” – a basin that has not seen daylight or any outside influence from things such as agriculture or mining. He has trademarked the phrase “The protected source.”

The spring, which pumps 2,000 gallons of 38-degree water a minute, belongs to Ouray. Zutler has a long-term lease and has built a pipeline to a bottling plant.

For the city of 850, the plant is a big deal. Renowned for its ice-climbing on frozen waterfalls above town, Ouray sees Zutler’s Biota as both a promotional tool and an economic engine.

“Tourism is our big thing here, and to have something that promotes the town is huge for us,” said Patrick Rondinelli, city administrator.

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado lent his support to Zutler in getting a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Republican senator’s interest is helping smaller communities in rural areas of Colorado achieve some form of economic diversity as they move beyond mining and ranching, said Derek Wagner, the senator’s Western Slope director.

Larger companies will be watching Biota and its corn-made bottle, said Matt Hirschland, spokesman for Business for Social Responsibility, a San Francisco consulting firm that helps companies address environmental and labor issues.

“He (Zutler) is one of the first to use this type of packing,” Hirschland said. “This is an area where there is tremendous upside for companies. It makes good business sense.”

When Zutler originally pondered a biodegradable bottle, the cost was high. Now, with oil above $50 a barrel, the cost of using corn is roughly even with petroleum-based bottles.

That pleases his investors, who Zutler said hail from the corporate world as well as professional sports and the entertainment business.

Zutler has an agreement with Cargill Dow LLC, which makes the corn-based plastic, called NatureWorks PLA, at its plant in Blair, Neb.

Zutler said the bottles have drawn interest from mountaineers who lug thousands of discarded water bottles off popular mountains.

The corn-based bottles not only decompose quickly, but they burn clean and can be a fuel source.

Source: DenverPost.com Oct 26, 2004.

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