I discovered JUST Water at an airport a few years ago, and remember reading over the packaging while waiting at my gate. I was surprised to see a bottled water product claim to be sustainable. Up until that point, bottle water and the environment had always seemed to be mortal enemies—there was no way to drink packaged water without harming the planet.
Overall, I feel that JUST is taking innovative steps to create a more sustainable alternative to bottled water. While they may not be perfect, as JUST grows I feel that they do have the potential to fully realize their goals in carbon neutrality and increasing their use of biodegradable materials. While JUST does encourage their bottles to be refilled and reused—and they do feel more substantial than a typical plastic bottle—I’m not sure I’d feel confident cleaning and reusing a JUST carton as often as a traditional multiple use container. A bottle such as a Hydroflask or Nalgene would have greater longevity, but if you find yourself needing to buy bottled water, JUST Water seems like a pretty great way to go. For these reasons, I rate them an overall score of 2.5.
A video on JUST’s homepage describes their product as “responsibly sourced water” and “plant-based renewable packaging materials.” These terms might be vague, but diving deeper into their website provides much greater detail on these specifics. Their water is spring water sourced from Glens Falls, New York, where they share a mutualistically beneficial partnership with the community. The packaging is pretty transparent as well. The bottles are made of 53.7% paper, 34.7% plant-based plastic made from sugarcane, 8.1% protective plastic film, and 3.5% aluminum, all of which are recyclable materials. As JUST points out, most plastic bottles are made from petroleum—which is both non-biodegradable and results in high levels of carbon emissions. A plant-based plastic, on the other hand, would not have the same carbon footprint. JUST chose sugarcane as the plant to use because it did not need chemical fertilizers and would not disrupt local food systems, thus protecting the environment and the country around them, and could also be used as renewable energy. Not only is the product made of renewable materials, but the brand actually encourages consumers to drink tap water when possible and even suggests reusing their own bottles! Overall, the majority of their bottle uses ethically sourced materials such as sugarcane, and the components that aren’t quite as clean are at least still recyclable. For this section I would rate them a 2.7—they might not be perfect, but they’ve taken creative steps compared to their competitors.
You don’t have to look far to find out how JUST Water is sourced. They’ve made a video explaining their process right on their website’s home page. They claim their water is responsibly sourced, and the “Water” tab on their website helps to prove it. Their water is sourced from Glens Falls, New York: a city that gains over 3 billion gallons of water annually from precipitation. JUST claims to pay the community six times the rate of other competitors, thus creating revenue that can help them repair pipes that have been damaged over time, and they only buy excess water that the community does not need. This water is also spring water which does not require nearly as much energy or produce as much waste as tap water (which many competing brands use).
Just as important as the water itself is the company’s packaging. The packaging is made up by a mixture of mostly paper and plant-based plastics, and approximately 12% non-biodegradable plastic and aluminum. The paper—which is the largest proportion of the packaging—is sourced from forests that JUST does not own or control, but are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a transnational nonprofit that aims to protect forests globally. The FSC certifies paper products based on ten standards that range from biodiversity to appropriate management to worker’s rights. The FSC certification also means that the entire life cycle of the paper timber fibers have been accounted for, and are often recycled through FSC certified paper mills.
The most innovative piece of the JUST puzzle is their plant-based plastic packaging. This plastic is made up of sugarcane grown in the southern region of Brazil, away from the Amazon rainforest. Sugarcane is both water efficient and helps in carbon sequestration, meaning that water and energy are not wasted on the plants and they simultaneously help pull carbon out of the atmosphere. When JUST harvests the sugarcane, their sugar mills are located near the fields, limiting transportation time and energy use. What I found most interesting about this process, however, was that in making the plastic, the sugarcane is split into three parts: edible sugar, ethanol (which is used in the plastic), and a pulp known as bagasse. Bagasse can be used as a biofuel that produces clean energy! This byproduct produces enough energy to not only power the sugar production process, but is also Brazil’s third largest energy source. Despite this plastic being made of plants materials, JUST does note that its current form is not biodegradable, meaning the whole carton can be recycled. On the topic of recycling, their website goes into detail explaining how the recycling process works, but this does appear to be a cradle-to-grave system. JUST does not buy back recycled materials or use them in their cartons, nor do they seem to know what percent of their products actually end up being recycled into new products.
Finally, it is important to discuss JUST’s carbon emissions. They report that one of their cartons produces 50% fewer emissions than a competing 100% PET bottle. While this statistic is certainly favorable, JUST is not a perfectly clean company and should continue working towards carbon neutrality. Their website does acknowledge areas where they could improve, such as continuing to shift towards renewable energy and fully organic packaging. Overall, JUST has very impressive and innovative strategies with their use of sugarcane-based plastics and biofuels, however they haven’t quite achieved all of their goals. For this section I would score them a 2.8, as they may not be all the way to carbon neutral just yet, but they are transparent in the steps they still need to take.
In discussing who is behind JUST water, it’s important to mention that it was co-founded by Jaden Smith. At first that made me question the legitimacy of the product, but after doing more research I don’t feel that the brand is being used as a celebrity’s publicity stunt. The sheer number of details on every part of their production process seems like Jaden and his brand are actually passionate about their work. As mentioned before, they source their water from Glens Falls, New York and pay a significant amount in order to help support the community, but their work goes beyond fixing old water pipes. One of JUST’s main facilities is located in an abandoned but historic building in the city, meaning that the tax revenue they produce goes back to the community. JUST’s partnership with the city helps revitalize the community and their own infrastructure. On the production side, JUST mentions that the sugarcane used to make their plastic packaging is sourced in Brazil and the processes used in its farming, however they do not disclose who actually does the farming. Their fields are owned by the company, but there is no published information on the impact their practices have on the surrounding community. Although still vague, they are somewhat more transparent in their paper sourcing. JUST claims that they work with “suppliers, NGOs, and other stakeholders” to make sure their practices are sound. They do not own the forests from which they source their paper, but these forests and their practices are FSC certified. As previously mentioned, the FSC certifies products based on ten standards, some of which include indigenous rights and community relations/worker’s rights. Because the paper used in JUST’s packaging is certified, their community impacts must be sound enough, however I would love to see more details from the company like they provide for their relationship with Glens Falls. For this reason, I would rate this section a 2. I would love to see more transparency in who is involved in every step of the process.