Flying somewhere over the planet, there’s a plane equipped with research-grade double-sided tape on the outside of its hull. Whenever the pilot lands the plane, he removes the tape, seals it in a package, and replaces it with a new one before he takes off again. He then mails the package to Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, care of Dimitri Deheyn, Associate Researcher.
Looking at the tape under a microscope, Deheyn sees what he’s looking for: microfibers, stuck to the adhesives.
Microfibers are a subset of microplastics, tiny pieces of petroleum-based materials that break down from larger plastic pieces or are manufactured at their microscopic sizes: less than 5 millimeters across. Microfibers are strands of fiber about five times thinner than a hair that are used in textile manufacturing; they shed from our clothes during wear, during washing and drying, flowing into waterways and drifting into the air.