Eco-Emballages SA originally set up a complex system for the collection and recovery of household packaging waste in 1993, in which its 9,500 corporate members pay a financial contribution in return for having their legal obligations in the area of the recycling of packaging discharged. Eco-Emballages then redistributes the revenues that it collects from them among the local authorities responsible for collecting household waste in order to compensate them for having to selectively collect and sort the waste. The local authorities then sell the waste to industrial firms. The aim of the scheme is to achieve a recovery rate for household packaging of 75% by 2002.

However, following a warning from the Commission at the beginning of 2000, Eco-Emballages was forced to re-write its contracts with its associates due to their restriction of competition. Companies are now able to leave the system after one year, and at the end of every subsequent year, and may also sign a contract with Eco-Emballage for either all or just a portion of their packaging waste. Local authorities are now also able to immediately leave the system, and may also have a contract with the French company for all or some of the waste that they collect.

The Commission acknowledges that Eco-Emballages is justified in requiring a standard of service from partners in recovering household packaging waste but cannot impose unjustified exclusivity clauses on them. The Commission’s decision aims to enable existing or potential competitors to offer services which are more efficient, better suited to needs, or simply better from the point of view of those requiring them. Moreover, says the Commission, producers should, if they wish, also be able to establish individual arrangements for some of their packaging while calling on the services of a collective system for the rest.

“The Commission must ensure that markets remain open to competition, including new markets such as waste recycling,” said European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti, adding that effective competition will improve recycling services, reduce their cost and enable packaging waste to be recovered in line with the Member States’ decision enshrined in the 1994 directive on packaging and packaging waste.

According to Eco-Emballages, France is in the leading group of countries with regard to recycling in Europe, which also includes Germany, Austria, Belgium and Luxemburg. At the end of 2000, says the company, 37 million French citizens were sorting their rubbish.

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