Sticky Business

Those neon-yellow, very, very sticky stickers the Sanitation Department slaps on the windows of illegally parked cars—almost no one likes them. And few like them less than David Greenfield, a councilman from Borough Park. Last month, the City Council unanimously passed a bill Greenfield sponsored seeking to stop their use. The mayor, citing evidence that the stickers have yielded cleaner streets, opposes the move, but the council has vowed to override a veto. The scarlet stickers have become a sticking point for City Hall.

All of which raises a question: Really? Or, more specifically: Surely somewhere in this great land exists an agglutinative middle ground, a sticker that succeeds as a deterrent without being so hard to remove that it amounts to “cruel and unnecessary” (Greenfield’s words) punishment?

“There are in fact many ways to build a sticker,” Glen Anderson said the other day, on the phone from his office. Anderson knows from stickers: For three decades, he’s served as executive vice-president of the Pressure Sensitive Tape Council (motto: “A bond you can trust”). “The difficulty the city is having is, well, they decided to make these things with a very heavy bond. Now, look, you could end up with a sticker that could be removed with a gust of wind—obviously that would be too thin,” Anderson said. “But if you use an improper adhesive, you could damage someone’s property.” He sighed. “If the city is looking for a knowledgeable adhesive consultant, I’d be happy to recommend one.”

Of adhesives on Earth, to borrow a phrase, it turns out there is a boundless diversity. On one end of the scale, we find the Post-it note, vulnerable to the elements and the errant thumb. On the other, the hardy structural adhesive, designed to hold together houses and, even less reassuringly, airplanes. In between: the Hello My Name Is sticker, the Band-Aid, the Coexist bumper sticker, and the old-school stamp (saliva not included; after that, it sticks just fine).

Where a particular sticker lands on the stickiness scale depends on a few basic criteria, which an adhesiveness expert—say, 3M scientist Dave Yarusso—will eagerly explain. You’ve got your “peel force” (how hard you have to pull an adhesive to separate it from its host), your “tack” (in other words, Yarusso said, “how aggressive the stick seems”), and your “shear” (how long the adhesive can hold a weight hanging from it). Some stickers reveal their stick immediately, while others, like a pre­nup on a bad marriage, get stickier the longer they’re in place. The sticker-builder starts with the desired stickiness and works backward. “Let’s say you want an adhesive with a certain peel force and a particular sheer hanging ability—that becomes a challenge,” Yarusso said. But generally, he added, you can get the mix of specs you want, “provided you have the resources.”

So a compromise sticker is technically possible. Now, to whom to issue the lucrative government contract? Across the river in Jersey City sits an outfit called Customized Stickers. The company makes three basic kinds of adhesives, employee Eric Bogard explained the other day: a static-cling sticker, a permanent adhesive (like the kind used to affix labels to jam jars), and a removable adhesive. “With a removable adhesive, you wouldn’t mark up the window, but it would still adhere and also still communicate that there’s been an infraction,” Bogard said.

Bogard was asked whether he wanted to weigh in on the great New York City sticker standoff. “Um, no,” he said. “I don’t think we will do that.” He knew a tar pit when he saw one.

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Sticky Business