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Category: Circular Materials Management News

Jenna Jambeck named 2024 SEC Professor of the Year

Jenna Jambeck, Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Georgia, was recently named the 2024 SEC Professor of the Year for her decades of work investigating the global scale of plastic pollution and galvanizing efforts to address solid waste and marine debris.

Jambeck named Regents’ Professor

Jenna Jambeck
Jenna Jambeck, associate director of the UGA New Materials Institute, has been named a Regents’ Professor, which is the highest professorial recognition awarded by the Georgia Board of Regents.

Jenna Jambeck has been named a Regents’ Professor in recognition of the national and international reach of her work in environmental engineering. Regents’ professorships are bestowed by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia and are the highest professorial recognition in the state’s system of public colleges and universities.

UGA’s Jenna Jambeck awarded MacArthur grant

Jenna Jambeck

Jenna Jambeck, Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Georgia, was named a 2022 MacArthur Fellow on Wednesday (Oct. 12) for her work investigating the scale of plastic pollution and galvanizing efforts to address plastic waste.

Commonly known as “Genius Grants,” the fellowship presented by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is among the most prestigious in the country. It is awarded to individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits for the benefit of society. Fellows are nominated by a select pool of experts and leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities and more areas.

Jambeck becomes the second UGA faculty member to receive the award.

Jambeck co-founded the New Materials Institute and leads its Center for Circular Materials Management.

Message in a (Plastic) Bottle

plastic bottle found by local fisherman in Louisiana, from Jenna Jambeck
A local fisherman in Louisiana found and returned one of the plastic pollution tracking devices Jenna Jambeck had launched in St. Louis, Missouri, over a month earlier.

Jenna Jambeck was enjoying family time on Memorial Day when she received a surprising message.

It was a call from a fisherman who had found something that he thought belonged to her: a plastic bottle. She had rigged it with a tracking device and dropped it into the Mississippi River in St. Louis to learn how trash travels in our waterways. On the bottle was a note with Jambeck’s contact info and a promise of a reward for its safe return if found.

“I get this message saying it’s in west Baton Rouge. I didn’t release any bottles in Baton Rouge,” says Jambeck, Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering and associate director of the university’s New Materials Institute. The institute focuses on sustainable product designs and rethinking how we manage our waste. “I’m thinking to myself, This must be a joke.”

So she asked him to send her a photo of the bottle. It turns out the bottle, referred to as Rogue One by the Star Wars-loving Jambeck, was one dropped upriver 881 miles away near St. Louis.  

Increasing circularity for organic waste to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Organic waste. (Getty Images)
Organic waste. (Getty Images)

Walmart Foundation grant to UGA New Materials Institute will yield scalable strategies

Improving the circular systems related to collection, recovery and management of organic waste will help local communities lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the accumulation of food-contaminated packaging in their landfills. There is a growing need for new strategies to strengthen management in this waste category, as more localities ban food waste from landfills and/or extend producer responsibility for waste management to manufacturers, particularly for packaging. logo

Researchers at the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute will help their hometown and five other U.S. communities improve organic-waste management practices through a 2-year project funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Walmart Foundation. The research will yield organic-waste management strategies that communities can adopt and scale, based on their population and resources. Organic waste includes food scraps and food-soiled packaging, as well as yard waste.

Diverting food waste from landfills to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is a high priority for the U.S. government, but local communities tasked with managing this waste stream currently lack the infrastructure and strategies needed to make improvements. To elicit current practices and conditions, the team will first conduct surveys and interviews with stakeholders in waste management, restaurant and business communities, as well as residents from apartments and single-family homes. For granular solutions that can be modeled for a variety of community sizes, the team will partner with two towns in each of three population densities: 400,000 and up, about 100,000, and under 40,000.

Utilizing the Circularity Assessment Protocol (CAP), developed at the New Materials Institute, the team will gain insight into local tipping fees, the types of waste management technologies used in a community, their associated costs and their availability to consumers. The CAP will also yield data on the most commonly used products in communities, local recycling trends and other consumer behaviors related to waste management. This assessment helps identify what type of waste leaks into local environments and why, and facilitates development of strategies to minimize leakage.

“We will investigate the root causes of landfilled organics in these communities to identify the collection gaps. The data will also drive our design of organics-waste collection technologies to address the gaps we find and accelerate the diversion of this waste,” said Evan White, a co-principal investigator on the project and director of the Institute’s Bioseniatic Laboratory, which studies degradation in simulated environments.

The second part of their project will focus on deploying and testing these safe, sanitary organic-waste collection technologies—bins that vary in size, complexity and operation, based on local needs. The researchers will also conduct workshops to help educate people on composting and better waste-management practices.

In the U.S., more food waste is landfilled than any other material. It makes up more than 24% of the municipal solid waste stream and is the nation’s third-largest generator of methane gas, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. By diverting landfill-bound food waste to composting sites, individuals can curb their own carbon footprint.

Currently four states—Maine, Oregon, Massachusetts and California—have passed legislation aimed at diverting food waste from landfills in order to lower GHG emissions. Maine and Oregon passed extended producer responsibility laws for packaging in 2021, and at least six states are considering similar legislation for their 2022 sessions.

Other principal investigators on the project include Jenna Jambeck, the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering and lead of the Circularity Informatics Lab in the New Materials Institute; Jason Locklin, director of the New Materials Institute, a Distinguished Faculty Scholar in the College of Engineering and professor of chemistry; and Branson W. Ritchie, a Distinguished Research Professor who is director of technology development and implementation for the institute and of the Infectious Diseases Laboratory.

Writer/Contact: Kat Yancey Gilmore, 706/542-6316,

What do you know about composting? Take UGA’s survey by March 31.

Do you compost food or gardening waste? Do you know what compostable certification labels look like and what they mean when you see them on packaging? Regardless of your answers, if you live in the U.S., the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute wants to know what you know about composting, and is asking members of the public to voluntarily complete a survey by March 31st.

“While access to municipal or private composting services is increasingly common in the U.S., public knowledge of how composting works and what people are composting is not well known,” said Jenna Jambeck, who is leading the research team conducting the survey. Jambeck is the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering, and co-founder of the UGA New Materials Institute. “Individual municipal programs may be able to track levels of participation in composting programs, but disposal of compostable packaging and compostable products has not been a focus of many past surveys of consumers.”

This survey seeks to understand consumer activities around composting, especially related to food waste and compostable food serviceware and packaging. It also seeks to gauge the level of consumer awareness of bio-based, biodegradable and compostable certification labels; disposal actions that consumers associate with those labels; and whether these certification labels influence consumer perception of consumer brands and products.

Members of the public should be able to complete the survey in less than 10 minutes, and can take it from their cell phone or other device connected to the internet. All responses will remain completely anonymous. The researchers request that only one individual from a household take the survey on behalf of the household. Data gathered may be used in research publications or presentations given by UGA researchers, students, or UGA’s research partners.

The deadline to complete the survey is March 31, 2021.

“Thank you to everyone who takes time to complete the survey. The data will help inform the design of materials before they become waste,” said Jambeck.

About the UGA New Materials Institute:

The UGA New Materials Institute is committed to preventing waste through the design of materials and systems that adhere to Green Engineering principles. The Institute partners with industry and businesses to design materials for their use that are bio-based, fully biodegradable, or completely recyclable, and safe for people, animals and our planet. In addition, it works with businesses and governments, foundations and other organizations to redesign systems so that they generate less waste and promote circularity in materials management. The New Materials Institute is also shaping the future by training the next generation of scientists and engineers on the importance of considering Green Engineering design principles in everything they do. For more information, visit

Biodegradable. Compostable. Recyclable. How helpful are product label claims?

A contaminated recycling stream.
Products and packaging labeled as “biodegradable” or “compostable” can confuse consumers and contaminate recycling streams. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Creating plastics, particularly packaging, is a complex endeavor. For example, multiple materials may be required to create packaging for a product, based on how far that product has to travel, how long its shelf life might be, and whether it’s packaging for a food item. So, if you are a consumer who is concerned about selecting environmentally-friendly packaging and products, what do you do? Are the claims made on product packaging clear enough to help you make the best decision when it comes time to dispose of that packaging or product? Jason Locklin, director of the UGA New Materials Institute, and Jenna Jambeck, who leads the Institute’s Center for Circular Materials Management, talked to the New York Times about the complicated choices facing today’s consumers.

Locklin, Jambeck help lead effort to shape circular economy research

The University of Georgia New Materials Institute’s Jason Locklin and Jenna Jambeck are collaborating on a virtual workshop series aimed at shaping the future of circular economy research. Locklin, a professor of chemical engineering and founding director of the New Materials Institute, and Jambeck, a professor of environmental engineering and associate director of the Institute, will join experts from academia, industry, government and nonprofits in panel discussions aimed at developing ideas and goals for circular economy research. The workshop series is funded by the National Science Foundation and is led by Melissa Bilec, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering; Bilec is deputy director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MSCI). Other co-investigators on the grant include Eric Beckman, a professor of chemical engineering and co-director of the MCSI, and, Gregg Beckham, senior research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Lab.

Jambeck named Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering

Jenna Jambeck
Jenna Jambeck, the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering, leads the UGA New Materials Institute’s Center for Circular Materials Management.

Jenna Jambeck, who directs the Center for Circular Materials Management within the UGA New Materials Institute, has been named the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering.

Jambeck is internationally recognized for her work to raise awareness about plastic pollution and to reduce mismanaged plastic waste from entering the world’s oceans.