Suit Calls Italy’s Conou Anti-competitive


Suit Calls Italy’s Conou Anti-competitive
A view of Robi Ambiente's oil recycling plant in Italy. Photo courtesy Robi Ambiente

Two Italian used oil recycling operators filed an antimonopoly petition against Conou, Italy’s National Consortium for Waste Oils Management, alleging that the consortium used its dominant position in the market to hinder their operation in the used oil rerefining industry, according to papers filed with the Italian Competition Authority.

Robi Ambiente S.r.l and Grassano S.p.A., used oil operators based in Bergamo and Piedmont provinces, Northwest Italy, filed the suit on Oct. 2. A week later the agency initiated investigative proceedings against Conou “to look into the accusations that it abused its dominant position on the market.”

“Conou, a legal monopolist in the recycling of hazardous waste, with dominant position in this used oil lubricating market, appears to have unlawfully hindered the operation of two used oil regeneration plants that have similar characteristics as the two other used oil regenerators in Italy,” the antimonopoly agency said in an Oct. 10 news release.

The agency said that the filing alleges this is done “in advantage of the two licensed base oil refineries and damaging the potential environmental benefits” that the society would have if Robi and Grassano were not hindered in their used oil rerefining endeavors.

The consortium denies the allegation by Robi and Grassano.

“With reference to the preliminary proceedings of the Competition and Market Authority initiated against Conou for an alleged abuse of a dominant position, the consortium, which is a non-profit organization, gives absolute trust in the agency’s activity and is confident that its actions will be confirmed as fully correct,” Conou asserted in a press release.

According to the Lubes’n’Greases Base Stock Plant Data database, Italy has two Conou-licensed base oil rerefineries operated by Itelyum – One is based in Ceccano, central Italy, with a capacity to produce 87,000 metric tons per year of API Group I base oils and the other is based in Pieve Fissiraga, south of Milano, capable to producing 20,000 t/y of Group I and 80,000 t/y of Group II base oils.

By deadline, Robi and Grassano didn’t replied to a request for comment. Lube Report obtained a copy of the antitrust documents filed by both companies.

In the early 2000s, Robi invested in expansion of its used oil collection activities with the construction of a “small used oil recycling plant in Treviolo,” according to the filing.

“In 2005, Conou signed a specific program agreement with Robi valid for Lombardy region and initially approved the company’s [used oil] recycling trials.”

The filing reveals that in October 2017, Conou signed a private agreement with Robi, according to which the consortium should pay a fee to Robi for the company’s used oil regeneration, following the ruling by a competent body of ARPA Lombardia, the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection of Lombardy. Robi alleged that Conou failed to comply with its obligations to pay the regeneration fee, after Conou claimed that the operation at the plant “cannot be classified as regeneration of base oils as the base oils produced there are intended for bitumen and rubber supply chain and do not qualify as highly refined, regenerated base oils.”

In the filling, Robi alleges that the company is aware of similar behavior by Conou towards another used oil collector, Piedmont-based Grassano. The company intends to build its own used oil regeneration facility, but Robi alleges that the consortium “made conflicting steps for issuing a license for the Grassano plant.” First, a Conou official gave verbal approval of the project during a conference in 2016, and then the consortium halted the correspondence with Grassano on this matter in 2018.

Robi Ambiente collects used oil and other waste,  such as solvents, accumulators, electrical and electronic equipment, tires, sludge and medicines. The used oil regeneration plant produces finished oils for production of rubber and bitumen. The company’s revenue in 2022 amounted to €11 million (U.S. $12 million).

Grassano is part of the Riccoboni group, which carries out environmental activities throughout Italy. Grassano collects and is capable of managing up to 10,000 tons of used mineral oils annually. The company’s revenue in 2022 amounted to €38 million.