Notable Grants

Research Insights

A Tale of Two Cities Optimizing Circularity from Molecules to the Built Environment, Jenna Jambeck

The current linear consumption model of raw material extraction, production, use, and disposal has led to serious consequences, from resource depletion to global waste, spanning all industrial sectors from plastics to the built environment. In its place, a new circular model can be created by transforming how the end-of-life and/or re-use of materials are envisioned, using systems tools to guide the design. This project will advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare by using the team’s Circularity Assessment Protocol (CAP) to develop interconnected circular models for waste avoidance and material reuse across four different categories: molecules, plastics, organic materials, and the built environment. By creating a path to circularity across multiple materials and scales in two large metropolitan areas in geographically disparate regions (Pittsburgh, PA, and Atlanta, GA), their knowledge and improved practices can translate to other locations throughout the US, eventually scaling to other cities. This work crosses the boundaries of pollution, social intersectional issues, community engagement, financial systems, and education and curriculum development. Project data will be made freely and publicly available on the internet using the open access, open data tool Debris Tracker, adding to the over 6 million other data points for leakage of materials and materials management in nearly 100 countries around the world. Circularity city data will be compared not only between Pittsburgh and Atlanta but with other CAP cities worldwide like Manila, Philippines; Semarang, Indonesia; and Can Tho, Vietnam. This project will profoundly enhance and amplify the waste reduction and management programs of the team’s local NGO, government, and industry partners. Partner and stakeholder meetings will seek ways to ameliorate systemic and intersectional issues including pollution burdens, lack of infrastructure, and access to services.
In contrast to linear models, circular economy (CE) decouples economic growth from resource consumption — for example, meeting people’s needs without producing waste in the first place. CE principles are based on the efficient use of resources and eliminating waste from product life cycles; a truly circular economy keeps material in continuous use by design. By deeply integrating diverse disciplines through the process of the team’s previously developed, proven holistic systems framework, the Circularity Assessment Protocol (CAP), the project can tackle the complex challenges that currently inhibit the growth of the circular economy. This work will utilize the CAP framework to converge circularity across multiple scales for the first time: from molecules (e.g., function-property and ecotoxicity), to materials (e.g., polymers, electronics, paper products), and the built environment (e.g., design for value and reversible building design). Working with well-positioned collaborators from NGOs, government, and industry, the project team will converge and connect these siloed research topics to create a path to optimizing circularity in two major metropolitan areas, Atlanta, GA, and Pittsburgh, PA. The two cities will be involved throughout the project and will have access to data facilitating the use of science and technology to inform public policy and support decision-making. This project will increase participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM, as these groups will be prioritized in recruiting graduate students for the project; increase public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology through the use of open data and free mobile citizen science apps; improve the well-being of individuals in society by reducing waste and improving the built environment; develop a diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce through the current education center at UPitt and students working on this project at each university; and deepen partnerships between academia and others.

  • PI: Jenna Jambeck

      • Funder: NSF
      • Amount: $749,997
      • PI: Jenna Jambeck