JUST Water

JUST Water

6 July, 2017
Plant-based plastic
CEO of JUST Water Ira Laufer on the importance of plant-based plastic for water bottles
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A lot of snow and rain falls in the Glen Falls, Upstate New York area. This small town—a dwindling population of 14,700 at last count—lies at the base of the Adirondack Mountains and collects 3 billion gallons of rain water and snow run-off in one year. And this is only in an area of just over six square miles. After the town residents use the water they need, Glen Falls is left with 1.7 billion gallons of excess spring water.

The start of a beautiful partnership

Bottled water company JUST Water saw this as an opportunity to partner up with Glenn Falls and help the local economy, which has suffered from a declining population since the 1950s and a reluctance to increase taxes while maintaining good services for residents. Buying less than 3 per cent of the excess water at a fair price, the company originally established a business with the expectation that it will drum up $1 million over 3–5 years. This will provide the Glen Falls community with much-needed resources to fix old water pipes and maintain emergency and social services. JUST Water established a business that positively affects the social and environmental impact on Glen Falls. The company is thinking hard about its bottled water—where it comes from, how it's bottled, and how the sourcing affects the people in the community. CEO of JUST Water Ira Laufer talked with Ecozine about the company's 100 per cent recyclable bottled spring water and the ethos behind the JUST Water business model.

Ethically and responsibly sourced bottled water

“I would leave a plastic bottle of water in my car when it’s 100 degrees outside and when I came back the next day, the water’s basically poison because of the petroleum oil from the bottle”, said CEO Ira Laufer.

In a world where people and corporates are realising that Earth is speeding headfirst towards over-accumulation of plastic waste production, JUST Water is a 100 per cent spring water bottle brand which focuses on a category using the most amount of plastic, which is water bottle packaging.

“We are a mission-driven company that is trying to deliver a line of items that is good for the world”. Laufer believes that consumers nowadays are a lot more educated and have a lot of information and knowledge about what they eat and what they drink. “Plus, it makes them feel better knowing that products they buy are ethically and responsibly sourced”.

The water used by JUST comes from Glens Falls, half of which is in excess and unused. “It is the first time a private entity has gone on an agreement with a town”, said Laufer, referring to the contract JUST has signed to buy half of this excess water for the next 99 years. It’s not only the company, which can benefit in the transaction of the fresh, pure spring water. Having JUST pay for the water that no one else would have used or purchased helps the town by creating more infrastructure as well as job opportunities.

JUST sees sustainability as the key principal in production

About 82 per cent of the brand’s bottle packaging uses renewable resources; 54 per cent of paper from certified trees; and 28 per cent plant-based plastic. Seven months ago, the cap and the shoulder of the bottles were made of 100 per cent petroleum-based plastic. To increase the environmentally friendly components of the bottle packaging, the team worked with Tetra Pak to use plastic made of sugarcane from Brazil. Now, the company uses 100 per cent plant-based plastic for the caps and shoulders.

Although JUST still uses 15 per cent of traditional plastic and 3 per cent of aluminium to avoid contaminants, Laufer is still hopeful that this proportion will be reduced in the coming future. “We have strong partnership with Tetra Pak and we will keep pushing it towards increasing our plant-based plastic to 100 per cent for the overall packaging “. However, despite not being completely recyclable, the JUST water bottle is still way better than what is out there on the market shelves right now, at least from a health perspective.

At only 99 cents per bottle, JUST attempts to maintain affordability for consumers. “We tried to sacrifice in other aspects to make sure the price is affordable for our consumers”, said Laufer. The brand pays six times more than what the consumer would pay for the water. He believes water is not an expensive commodity but the packaging is. “The goal was to create something that is accessible to all,” the vegan CEO said. “We don’t want to create a premium product”.

A product worth endorsing

What a lot of people don't know about JUST Water is the involvement of A-list celebrities such as actor/rapper Will Smith and son Jaden Smith. In fact, the Karate Kid actor Jaden Smith was the idea behind creating this sustainable design when he came across a lot of plastic in the ocean while out surfing.

“Jaden is the idea behind the product, but [the family is] not the face of the company”, said Laufer. He describes the father and son as genuinely passionate, excited and committed to bring about a better change for the environment while making the journey accessible to everyone. “It’s an added-value we have that many companies don’t have”, he said, “which is not paid for”.

Sugarcane vs petroleum-based plastic

JUST quantifies the cut on carbon emission via how many water bottles are sold. The company claims a 74 per cent reduction in carbon emissions with a JUST water bottle compared to an average sized petroleum-based water bottle. According to its website, the production of 200,000 tons of sugarcane used for making the plastic for JUST bottles equals to an annual reduction of 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s the same amount of an annual CO2 emission from 800,000 cars!

When asked about whether plant-based plastic is going to be more popular in the future, Laufer laughs and said, “I hope so”. Petroleum-based plastic is a cheap commodity and a major driving factor for big companies. But with more awareness and consciousness among people nowadays, Laufer describes it as “not able to replace plastic, but it’s a new and growing category”.

In the next four months, JUST plans to launch a line extension, which will sell infused water bottles. The water will still come from the excess purchased from Glens Fall but will be infused with herbs and essences such as strawberry, mango or mint. Of course, everything will be 100 per cent organic.

The company sees exporting as one of its biggest strategies and a big chance to further succeed its brand. Currently, it only sells to the US and Canada but it’s keeping an eye on Europe as well. As for Asia, Laufer identifies China and Hong Kong as immediate opportunities. “And also the ones that need the most help with plastic usage”.

“Right now it’s just water, but the idea is to create a platform for categories with JUST branding so that every time you see it”, said Laufer, pointing at a printed version of the brand sample on his notebook, “You know it’s something good for the world that you want to be part of”.

By: Sumichhya Gurung
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