Scrap firms have been inspected as part of an investigation into suspected cartels in the lead recycling sector.
The European Commission has carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several buyers of scrap batteries and other lead scrap for the production of recycled lead.
The inspections took place as part of an investigation under the commission’s antitrust policy and European rules on competition. For the inspections, commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the national competition authorities.
The companies concerned may have violated Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which prohibits cartels and restrictive business practices, according to the commission.
However, it declined to name the firms inspected or say which countries they are based in. The commission said that inspections were a preliminary step in investigations into suspected cartels.
It added: “The fact that the commission carries out the inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.”
The Bureau of International Recycling said that it had contacted the EU Commission for more information.
Director general Francis Veys said that cartels were usually organised by a small group of operators which can ultimately agree on a price: “This can’t be done at the collection stage because of the large number of operators, unless something is happening at the level of some consortia which are responsible at the national level of the recovery and final recycling of the waste batteries in accordance to the EU directive on waste batteries and accumulators.”
There is no legal deadline to complete cartel inquiries, according to the commission. The length of the investigation will depend on the complexity of the case and the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate and the exercise of the rights of defence.
Ongoing competition wrangle
Compliance scheme operator Recolight and Electrical Waste Recycling Group are among firms currently involved in a long running competition law dispute.
Electrical wholesaler City Electrical Factors (CEF) and WEEE and lamp recyclers Electrical Waste Recycling Group (EWRG) alleges that Recolight, along with Philips Electronics, GE Lighting, Osram and Havells Sylvania have breached of competition law, including Article 101, and brought a claim seeking damages in the High Court in 2009. The litigation is set for a nine-week hearing early next year.
The claimants say that Recolight had stopped accepting or being responsible for any lamps collected from customers, forcing them to separately arrange and pay for collection, despite paying a 15p per lamp surcharge to manufacturers to cover the cost of recycling.
The defendants strongly deny the allegations and have filed a defence in the High Court.