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The most genius thing associated with grants from the MacArthur Fellows program was labeling them “genius grants,” thus guaranteeing coverage even in places that don’t have geek in the title.

The 2022 group was announced yesterday. There were no New Hampshire recipients this year although, as always, there are several from the university-filled Boston area. And we have an almost!

Dr. Jenna Lambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, won a grant this year for “developing new methods for understanding and addressing global plastic pollution” by “creating standardized methods for characterizing the processes and socioeconomic factors driving plastic waste leakage into the environment.”

Across her work, Jambeck is committed to translating scientific evidence into policy solutions. To that end, she and colleagues created the Circularity Assessment Protocol (CAP). CAP is a rigorous, cost-effective toolkit for assessing materials management systems at the community level. It reveals how consumer plastic flows into a community, how it is consumed, and how it flows out, either through waste management or via leakages into the environment. The CAP methodology analyzes both the material aspects of waste flow (that is, the types of plastics being used, the waste collection methods, and processing infrastructure) and the system of actors. The system includes the plastic manufacturers, the users of plastics in the community, and the people whose livelihoods depend on waste management (such as waste pickers). CAPs have been implemented in over thirty cities around the world since 2020, including in Vietnam, India, and the United States. Importantly, Jambeck and her team work in partnership with local researchers in conducting assessments. This ensures that there is local ownership and capacity for implementing potential solutions and measuring their effectiveness. With an emphasis on communicating with the public, involving local stakeholders, and holistically assessing materials management, Jambeck is galvanizing local, national, and global efforts to reduce this grave threat to our planet and well-being.

The NH angle: she was an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New Hampshire from 2005 to 2009.

The list of all 25 fellows is here.

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