Featured Researcher: Jenna Jambeck

Jenna Jambeck is an assistant professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia.  Dr. Jambeck conducts research and teaches environmental engineering with a focus on solid waste. Her work often interweaves social context and sciences with technical aspects. She has conducted numerous research projects including those related to contaminant fate and transport during waste beneficial use, chemical fate and biological processes within disposal systems, sustainable and innovative waste management practices, marine debris and plastic pollution. As we continue to evolve from waste management to materials management, a new paradigm is being created and Dr. Jambeck strives to be at the forefront of this transformation.

Dr. Jenna Jambeck received her Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Florida in 2004. She then worked for the U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development in Research Triangle Park, N.C. as an ORISE post-doc. She became a research professor at the University of New Hampshire and then moved to the University of Georgia in 2009. She has been conducting research on solid waste issues for 19 years with related projects on marine debris since 2001, especially projects related to location and spatial analysis of debris, debris quantification and characterization, and technology/mobile device usage (mapping, etc.). She also specializes in global waste management issues and plastic pollution. In November 2014 she sailed across the Atlantic ocean with 13 other women in eXXpedition to sample land and open ocean plastic and encourage women to enter STEM disciplines. She was principal investigator of the NOAA partnership the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative (SEA-MDI) and co-developer of the mobile app Marine Debris Tracker, a tool currently being used in a global citizen science initiative to log marine debris throughout the world.

The app has had amazing success with more than 12,000 downloads and attention from media including a mention in Apple’s promotional video for their Worldwide Developer Conference as an “App that you can’t live without.”  Data collection has resulted in over 47,000 data points logging 470,000 items. Data is added daily by the users and citizen scientists. Dr. Jambeck has conducted a lot of outreach related to the app. As some examples, she participated in the California Ocean Science Trust Citizen Science Workshop. She has presented at the Global Waste Management Symposium, presented to the internal NOAA citizen science group and recently had a poster at the inaugural Citizen Science Association Conference. The NOAA Marine Debris Program has blogged about the app and about the Tots Track Trash project. Dr. Jambek’s students and she presented posters at Jekyll Island Green Screen Events, in 2013 and 2014, along with a screening of Into the Gyre in collaboration with the EcoFocus Film Festival. She tries to tell anyone who might remotely listen about the importance of the marine debris problem and how they can help by telling us when they see litter or debris with Marine Debris Tracker (and encouraging others to do so as well). And don’t think that if you are inland, you can’t use it – the most active individual tracker (second on this list) collects all his data in Omaha, Nebraska.

Dr. Jambeck also served on a National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) working group on marine debris. After over three years of working together, there are a multitude of papers coming out of this working group, and Dr. Jambeck had the honor of leading one paper on the input of plastic to the ocean from global waste management. This is a number that has never been calculated before, but she and her colleagues tackled the challenge in a very scientific and systematic way resulting in a recent publication in Science and speaking engagements at global meetings.

It is a critical time for our environment right now, and waste management and plastic in the oceans are important global concerns. Dr. Jambeck believes we need to work together at a combination of local and global initiatives… and we need global participation from various stakeholders and Dr. Jambeck is optimistic this will happen. By changing the way we think about waste, valuing the management of it, collecting, capturing and containing it, we can open up new jobs and opportunities for economic innovation, and in addition, improve the living conditions and health for millions of people around the world and protect our oceans.

More on Dr. Jambeck and her projects can be found here: http://jambeck.engr.uga.edu/. Follow her work on Twitter @JambeckResearch, @DebrisTracker or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jenna.jambeck, https://www.facebook.com/MarineDebrisTracker