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“We are dedicated to finding solutions”

Expert Interview: The world’s appetite for plastic packaging is at an all-time high. But what are we doing to support a recycling process when it comes to plastic bottles? We spoke to Rick Fearn, Vice President of Research and Development of the Constantia Flexibles Labels Division.


  • Rick Fearn (middle) receiving the APR Letter of Recognition with Dave Cornell (left), a Technical Consultant and former Technical Director of the APR and John Standish (right), the current Technical Director of the APR.

Constantia Flexibles: Rick, why is plastic often the first choice, when it comes to packaging – especially for beverages?

Rick Fearn: Plastic is lightweight, flexible, strong, moisture-resistant and relatively low-cost, all of which make it the material of choice in the production of so many consumer products.

Unfortunately, while recycling is growing, the level of PET contamination is a notable sore spot for the industry. Recyclers are looking for clean PET flake that can be sold to reclaimers and ultimately reused as food-quality plastic.

Constantia Flexibles: So what can be done…?

Rick Fearn: We are dedicated to finding solutions. Constantia Flexibles has been working with the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR) for over a decade to create a pressure sensitive label that doesn’t contaminate the recycling process. In 2003, they were awarded the APR’s “Partner for Change Award” for creating a pressure sensitive label that was compatible with the PET recycling process.

Constantia Flexibles: Are these labels used much?

Rick Fearn: At the time, the material was cost-prohibitive to most customers. Continued development with strategic vendors has resulted in SpearRC, a cost-effective pressure sensitive label that is recognized by the APR to be fully compatible with the PET recycling process and conditionally approved by the European PET Bottle Platform (EPBP) for up to 10% of the entire European PET bottle market. Now you can have it all – low cost, high impact pressure sensitive labels that improve your brand’s environmental footprint.

In addition to that, these labels are easily applied using current pressure sensitive labeling equipment and can be produced using clear, white or metalized label film..

Constantia Flexibles: Can you tell us about other inspiring projects outside of Constantia Flexibles?

Rick Fearn: One project I personally find really inspiring is the idea of a 20-year old Dutchman named Boyan Slat who invented The Ocean Cleanup array. Here long floating barriers use the natural movement of the ocean currents to passively concentrate the plastic. The current flows underneath the barriers, protecting sea life while lighter-than-water plastic is collected. The scalable array of floating barriers is designed for large-magnitude deployment, covering millions of square miles without moving at all.

A huge milestone in that project was the Mega Expedition that just concluded a few days ago after a month-long voyage. The goal was to estimate the amount and type of plastic inside, so that the team can prepare the cleanup technology for its first ocean pilot, taking place in 2016. The data is currently being analyzed.