Second-year environmental studies major Lily Poehler garnered 700 signatures for her student project through the Environmental Leadership Incubator program to enact policy change to reduce microfiber pollution in California. Its online petition has garnered nearly 700 signatures since being posted in February.

Her campaign, titled the Microfiber Initiative, began in February and seeks to raise awareness of microfiber pollution. Courtesy of Lily Poehler

Her campaign, titled the Microfiber Initiative, began in February and seeks to raise awareness of microfiber pollution, specifically, the microplastics released into the environment from textiles as a result of washing clothes, Poehler said. 

“[Microfibers] go into the ocean via wastewater treatment plants, and [while] some are captured … Those ones are actually put onto agricultural land as sewage,” Poehler said. “No matter what, you’re getting microplastic pollution.”

Poehler’s campaign involves a petition for the California government to implement a policy to reduce microfiber pollution. She is also encouraging the community to write letters to California government representatives.

“It’s basically just asking for broad policy on microfiber pollution because there’s a lot of different angles that could be taken,” Poehler said. “Originally, I wanted my petition to ask for a mandated law that filters must be put on washing machines — and microfiber filters are very easy to have installed by the manufacturer. It’s kind of like a lint filter on a dryer but for your washing machine … But then my mentor said I should keep it more broad because there’s other ways in which policy could be implemented.”

The petition refers to the Statewide Microplastics Strategy, Poehler said. The strategy is a roadmap on how California should take action on issues such as microplastic pollution and where the impacts of and solutions to microfibers are detailed.

“It’s kind of like asking them to implement their own ideas,” Poehler said. 

For the letter-writing component of her campaign, participants are encouraged to send a pre-written letter to their local representative indicating their support for a new policy to be passed about microfiber pollution.

Her goal is to not only see a microfiber policy passed, but for awareness of microfiber pollution to rise. Courtesy of Lily Poehler

Poehler said she first learned about the topic of microfiber pollution last year before it sparked her project idea.

“I read an article in the New York Times,” Poehler said. “And I’ve always been really interested in sustainable fashion.”  

“I was really just shocked to learn that our clothes are polluting the environment … It’s something that I never thought of before. And it just felt like this really big issue that no one really knows about.” 

The Microfiber Initiative is part of UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Leadership Incubator (ELI) program where students can create a project of their choosing related to any environmental issue, Poehler said. 

“In the fall, it’s a class where you have professors who help you develop your project,” Poehler said. “There’s a good community of peers who are also on the same path with all very different projects. And then in the winter and spring quarters, then you actually implement your project. And, along the way, they assign you a mentor who helps you give you guidance.”

Poehler said that ELI helped with planning out her project. 

“It’s a really great way to bring ideas to life because you really have mentorship and guidance that you otherwise wouldn’t,” Poehler said. “And there’s also a level of accountability that I really like.”

On May 7, Poehler plans to lobby at a public event for California Ocean Day,and represent the Microfiber Initiative.

“I’m going to be talking to different representatives about microfiber pollution and my concerns about it,” Poehler said. “My mentor, she works for this nonprofit called 5 Gyres, which is an ocean conservation group, and so she’s going to be there.”

Going forward, Poehler will continue promoting the campaign through tabling and social media with plans to speak to classes about her petition. Poehler is aiming to hit 1,000 signatures by May, eventually hit 10,000 and 50,000 signatures. 

Ultimately, though, she said her goal is to not only see a microfiber policy passed, but for awareness of microfiber pollution to rise. 

“It’d be awesome if more people just knew about the problem and implemented solutions at home,” Poehler said. “Washing your clothes on cold, and [on] a delicate setting reduces the amount of microfibers that are released from clothes. And then, there’s washing machine bags that you can buy or laundry bags — you just put your clothes in there and it catches all the fibers. … I hope that one day, it’s kind of a norm.”