Aspen native battles the bottle — from the inside
Max Ben-Hamoo fights bottled water — with better bottlesStewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Aspen native Max Ben-Hamoo is the president of WorldLife Water, which has introduced water in a biodegradable bottle.Stewart Oksenhorn / The Aspen Times
ASPEN — As a kid growing up in Aspen, Max Ben-Hamoo was intensely interested in science; he went on to major in environmental science at the University of Denver. But as he got older Ben-Hamoo became more practical-minded, and after getting his bachelor’s degree, he changed directions and earned an MBA, also from the University of Denver.
“Once I realized how much more powerful business is than science, I wanted to combine my passion for the environment with some knowledge of business, and grow that,” the 25-year-old said.
Ben-Hamoo’s current career is a near-perfect reflection of the development of that sort of thinking. Where in his childhood, Ben-Hamoo disdained single-use bottles of water — “I gave my parents trouble when they got bottled water: ‘Get something you can refill,’” he said — he has adjusted his perspective and has joined the bottled-water business. But with a twist. WorldLife Water, the company which he serves as president, has introduced what Ben-Hamoo says is the first single-use water bottle to use completely biodegradable plastic. The bottles are manufactured by an Arizona company that treats the PET plastic with an additive that attracts microbes, thus speeding the decomposition of the material. (The bottles are also made without BPA, a plastic which Canada has banned as a toxic substance.)
WorldLife Water arrived on shelves two weeks ago at the Highlands Pizza Co., at Aspen Highlands. “I asked the guy there if he wanted it, and he said, ‘Yeah, looks great. I think people will love it,’” Ben-Hamoo said. “I think he understands people will want it.”
For the moment, Highlands Pizza is the only place to find WorldLife Water, but Ben-Hamoo believes retailers, especially in Colorado, will see things the way Highlands Pizza did: Customers who are attached to the convenience of bottled water will happily switch to a product that is relatively easy on the environment.
“It’s the conscious consumer we’re after, someone who will notice that biodegradable plastic is important for the future of our environment,” Ben-Hamoo said, adding that he is working on adding accounts in Aspen, where he visits frequently to see family, and Denver, where he now lives. “And Colorado is the best place for that — most people have a good understanding of that connection. We’re optimistic because we’ve gotten a great response from everyone we’ve shown it to. It’s like people were waiting for it. They feel bad about their bottled water habit, and this helps them do something about it.”
Ben-Hamoo said making a bottle biodegradable costs 70-80 percent more than a regular plastic bottle, but the added manufacturing expense results in only a slight increase in price for the customer. A 500-milliliter bottle of WorldLife, he said, will sell for between $1 and $2. The trick will be to get the big retailers who emphasize low prices to stock it.
WorldLife was founded two years ago by Kris Kalnow, a Cincinnati resident who has a house in Snowmass, and whose son, Chip, was a friend of Ben-Hamoo’s in college: “She founded the company, then quickly realized, while she wanted to keep it going, she didn’t want to be the one running it,” Ben-Hamoo said. “She knew my background and thought I’d be a good one to run it.”
Taking over the business has required some readjustment of his perspective. Now, instead of shouting out against bottled water — and seeing its use more than quadruple in his lifetime — Ben-Hamoo is on the inside, trying to make the product more environmentally palatable.
“I understand how much bottled water is out there; people are going to buy it,” he said. “If we can replace the standard market with this product, that’s better. It’s better for the earth.” (Ben-Hamoo added that the best thing that can be done with plastic bottles is to recycle them, but that, in practice, some 70 percent of bottles end up in landfills.)
Ben-Hamoo is currently the only employee of WorldLife. While he looks to line up some interns, he is handling sales, marketing, manufacturing, warehousing and accounting. And while he gains broad business experience, his curiosity about science hasn’t died. In the yard at his father’s house are buried several WorldLife bottles, so Ben-Hamoo can monitor for himself how quickly his product biodegrades.