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Co-founder of Yardley Borough company helping to lead Burlington Island cleanup


A Yardley Borough businessman with a passion for the environment and reducing the amount of plastics in the world has turned his attention to Burlington Island.

Robert Catalano, co-founder/co-owner/chief innovation officer of the global packaging and innovation company The Spearhead Group based on Main Street in the borough, shares a heart-felt mission with others at the company.

A resident of neighboring Lower Makefield Township, he wants to clean up all the plastic bottles and other waste that collects on the island, a 400-acre uninhabited land mass in the middle of the Delaware River between Bristol Borough and Burlington City, N.J.

To accomplish that mission, the Spearhead Group has launched and is the primary sponsor of an independent nonprofit called Spearhead Project Earth that is signing up volunteers for cleanup and education sessions on the island every Thursday starting April 6 and extending through Oct. 26. The nonprofit had conducted what Catalano describes as trial cleanups of the island last year.

“We are determined to act together to restore the integrity and beauty of this landmark site for all of us who value the Delaware River, Burlington Island and our responsibility to preserve international waterways,” Catalano said. “Plastic items trapped on island shores can easily reach the ocean. We’ve launched Spearhead Project Earth to act on our company’s core mission to place sustainability first, locally and globally.”

To sign up as a volunteer for the cleanups, visit

Catalano and others at the nonprofit have gotten a lot of help with the island cleanup initiative, most notably from Burlington City Councilman Dave Babula and Joe Abate of the Board of Island Managers. Babula and Abate explained that the island is owned by three different entities: Green Acres, controlled by Burlington City; City of the People, managed by the Board of Island Managers; and a small part by a private company.

During a recent interview along the Delaware River in Burlington City, Catalano, Abate and Babula explained how the island acts as kind of a net for plastic bottles floating down from any northern point along the river.

“Plastics are becoming more impactful to our environment,” Babula said. “Our interaction with Spearhead revolves around them wanting to give back but also with their educational message of creating a sustainable environment.”

Abate said a cooperative cleanup effort a few years ago called United by Blue that removed 97,000 pounds of scrap metal from the island shows what can be accomplished when government and the private sector work together.

“Working with Joe and Dave has been a pleasure,” Catalano said. “They have guided me through and helped me navigate the complexities of how to make this work.”

The island is accessible by boat from both sides of the river. There are 5 miles of trails marked by color-coded signs. Abate and Babula are among those working to get a larger, sturdier dock built on the island to improve accessibility.

Burlington Island has a rich history dating back to settlements by indigenous peoples of the area. After 1664 when the English took control, it was used as a frontier trading and military outpost. Burlington City was granted title to the island in 1682.

The island was once home to an amusement park before that facility was destroyed by fires in the 1920s and 1930s. Preserving that varied history is all the more reason to keep the island clean and rid of plastic bottles, said Catalano, who added he got the idea for the cleanup after visiting the island with his family on their pontoon boat and seeing the proliferation of plastic.

Catalano said the goal for Spearhead Project Earth is to eventually expand its cleanup and environmental initiatives to a global scale, but that Burlington Island is a good place to start. That emphasis on the environment and sustainability also applies to The Spearhead Group, which is known for – among other things – making the distinct purple-bag packaging for Royal Crown whiskey.

According to Catalano, The Spearhead Group has eliminated all plastics from its secondary packaging, a move the company believes has already saved hundreds of metric tons of CO2 emissions in the past year alone. The company, founded by Catalano and Heather Fritzsche – who is now majority owner and CEO – also has an initiative to utilize recycled bottles to make textiles for luxury reusable bags for the spirits industry, Catalano said.

“It takes 1,000 years for plastic to break down, but it never really decomposes all the way,” said Catalano. “Municipalities don’t really have the recycling capacity to keep up, and so much of it ends up in our waters and in our bodies.”

When the Burlington Island cleanups start, Spearhead Project Earth will bring volunteers out to the island from both Bristol Borough and Burlington City on pontoon boats, Catalano said. The day will include food and drink supplied by the nonprofit and an education session, he added. Reusable bags will be used in the cleanups, and bottles and other plastics will be recycled via a large bin on the Burlington City side. Rain dates will be on Fridays.

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