Commingled Conversation: Jenna Jambeck

Commingled Conversation: Jenna Jambeck

Jenna Jambeck, Ph.D., is passionate about a lot of things. The Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Georgia will be presenting at the Global Waste Management Symposium, where she’d be happy to discuss her latest waste research, or perhaps just geek out about the physiology of the dianoga (the creature lurking in the Death Star garbage compactor).

Waste Age: What is your pet peeve?

Jambeck: Littering, especially cigarette butts out of car windows.

Waste Age: What is your idea of the perfect day?

Jambeck: Sun shining, cool breeze, no schedule to keep and time outside in nature playing with my family.

Waste Age: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Jambeck: One of my favorite quotes is, “I am still learning,” by Michelangelo. I deeply admire Michelangelo’s artistic talents and intellect and this is a reminder to keep an open mind; even if you are a “master” there is something to be learned every day… and sometimes every minute, it seems! I love learning and I appreciate that I work and live in an environment where I get this opportunity, daily.

Waste Age: What was the last book you read?
Jambeck:Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life” by Karen Maezen Miller. I juggle a lot as a professor, wife and mom, and being Zen about it means I enjoy our life’s journey to its fullest and know that every moment is exactly as it should be.

Waste Age: What is your favorite movie?
Jambeck: “Star Wars.” I watched it more than 20 times as a kid and just recently quoted one of my favorite scenes — the garbage compactor scene — to my four-year-old son as he was pretending to manage garbage with his toys (he has a lot of “equipment” and plays garbage collection, landfill and construction work with it). I then showed him the scene on YouTube, but he wasn’t really into it.

Waste Age: What is your favorite TV show?

Jambeck:I don’t get to watch much, but I DVR “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

Waste Age: Beatles or Rolling Stones?

Jambeck: Rolling Stones. I saw them in concert at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida when I was in college.

Waste Age: What is the strangest piece of trash you’ve ever come across?

Jambeck: My top three: 1) A really nice horse saddle that I still have. I was able to buy it from the C&D recycler I was working with at the time for $0.25 (since you cannot waste “pick”). 2) A bowling ball we found while excavating horizontal leachate injection lines at a landfill, so we did a little landfill bowling. 3) A piece of bologna that came up from the depths of a vertical injection well being drilled at a closed landfill – and it looked just like a piece of bologna from a package (talk about being preserved!). Then within a couple of minutes it was brown, completely cooked and oxidized by the hot sun. I had not eaten much bologna before then anyway, but after that I never wanted to eat it again.

Waste Age: Do you prefer the beach or mountains?
Jambeck: I like hiking in the mountains, but I would choose the beach. I adore and am passionate about protecting the ocean and my research relates to it. Besides swimming in the ocean, walking on the sand and building sand castles, we often pick up marine debris as a family. My four-year-old son has designed an ocean-trash-picking-device using a toy boat/garage and Legos.


Waste Age: What is the one thing three things you couldn’t live without?

Jambeck: My family, nature and dark chocolate.

Waste Age: If you could invite three people — living or dead — to a dinner party, who would they be?

Jambeck: These people are all amazing, strong, beautiful and fun women in my life who are now deceased: My grandmother, Helen Jambeck, would cook a meal and my step-mother Linda, and my cousin Kecia, and I would help. We would enjoy nice wine, awesome food, great conversation, and laugh a lot. I love to be with people who smile and laugh a lot.

Waste Age: If you weren’t serving in your current role, what would you like to be?
Jambeck: In order to take the pressure off myself in getting my Ph.D. I used to say, “If I don’t graduate, I’ll just make shell necklaces at the beach.” That has always been my backup plan. But I also love creative writing and painting, so I might try to be a writer or an artist as well.

Waste Age: What is your favorite sports team?

Jambeck: To the dismay of both factions, I somehow I find it possible to now like both the [University of Florida] Gators and the [University of Georgia] Dawgs. And when they play, I win either way. I love to see my students happy when the Dawgs win.

Waste Age: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Jambeck: To be able to breathe under water.

Waste Age: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done?

Jambeck: I jumped off a 40-foot cliff in Jamaica into the ocean with my husband.

Waste Age: What’s the one talent you have that not many people know about?

Jambeck: I love the arts. I enjoy painting with acrylic paints and have one of my paintings up in my office. I played the trumpet for eight years in elementary through high school and had piano lessons too. I am trying to get back into playing music with our new (used) piano with my boys. My youngest son, 17 months, loves to play with me.

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