This staple (no pun intended) of the office stationery cupboard is as popular as ever, but could it come unstuck, thanks to its not-so-fantastic plastic credentials?
Don’t you mean sticky tape?
No, if you’re talking about the UK’s leading branded tape, it’s Sellotape. Like Hoover and Tupperware, it has turned into a genericised trademark used to describe the wider product category. It officially entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1980 – some might say later than it should, as the product dates back to 1937. Scotsman Colin Kinninmonth and George Grey invented it when they coated cellophane film with a rubber resin. Cellophane was already trademarked, so they turned to ‘sello’ to create the name. Since 2002, it’s been owned by office products giant Henkel.
What is it used for these days?
Sellotape remains an indispensable part of the modern school/office. At the time of writing, it’s Amazon’s 14th-best selling office product (ahead of mouse mats and A4 clear wallets), and despite the fact Christmas is its biggest sales spike (with 6m rolls sold in December alone). And the adhesive tape market is predicted to grow annually by 5% to 2022, reaching a value of $62bn.
Isn’t plastic considered a bad thing?
Now that the BBC’s Blue Planet series has captured the zeitgeist and denounced plastic, Sellotape could potentially come a bit... well, unstuck. Adhesive tape is doubly bad, argue conservationists, as not only is the tape itself non-recyclable, but tape still affixed to paper renders the paper non-recyclable too. For that reason, Amazon (which sends three million parcels a day in the UK alone), now uses 100% biodegradable Brown Kraft Tape. But rather than playing with the brand, Henkel is concentrating on reducing energy consumption in manufacturing and making all its packaging 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable.
So, how many types of Sellotape are there?
Sellotape comes in many varieties (one source claims 98), from Original Golden to Super Clear and Double Sided.
Not to be confused with…
Scotch Tape, invented by American 3M engineer Richard Drew – which helped save the lives of the astronauts aboard Apollo 13; Duct Tape (or Duck Tape) – a fabric-based tape that can be torn rather than needing scissors, made by Johnson & Johnson; Gaffer Tape, the heat-resistant tape that’s still the go-to fix for lighting technicians and photographers, invented by director and cinematographer Ross Lowell in 1959. Oh, and not forgetting new entrant Gorilla Tape.
Who stole my tape?
Office workers are famously territorial about their supplies – which perhaps explains why demand remains strong. Last year cash-strapped ScotRail sent an internal memo to station buyers to halve their stationery orders... with little success.
Seal of approval
During World War II, Sellotape was used in the UK to seal first aid kits. New types of self-adhesive tape were also developed during the war to seal windows and doors in an attempt to limit bomb damage, and also to tape up munitions boxes.