Brussels fined three companies €68m for colluding to keep prices low for scrap automotive lead batteries, the world’s most recycled product, in the commission’s first cartel case in the ‘circular’ economy.

“The four companies fined today have colluded to maximise their profits made from recycling scrap batteries, reducing competition in this essential link of the recycling chain,” said commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

She added:

You should not be able to say ‘I am doing something good, so you should forget all the bad things that I did’, that doesn’t really make sense if you want fair markets to work.

The cartel operated from 2009 to 2012 in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands where the companies represented between 60 to 70 per cent of the market. They agreed on target prices, maximum prices and volumes to increase their profits.

The commission fined Eco-Bat Technologies of the UK €32.7m, Recylex of France €26.7m, and Campine of Belgium €8m, while Johnson Controls of the US avoided a fine of €38.5m because it reported the cartel to the watchdog. Fines to Eco-bat and Recylex both were also reduced because they cooperated with the investigation.

The companies could face further costs if the suppliers of the scrap batteries, mostly small and medium sized companies, seek private damages through the courts.

This the first case that used the purchase prices – rather than sales – to calculate fines because Johnson Controls did not sell the recycled lead on but rather used it to make new batteries for cars and trucks. The fines were increased by 10 per cent as these were the prices the cartel aimed to keep artificially low.

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