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DATE: December 5, 2018

SNIP: Environment Canada has for years encouraged Canadians to reuse, recycle and reduce, but its weather service routinely dumps electronic waste — including batteries — across the landscape, making no efforts to recover the material.

Every day, 62 weather balloons (radiosondes) carrying battery-powered circuit boards burst at high altitudes and drop their loads to the ground, discarded and forgotten.

That works out to 22,630 dumps of ‘e-waste’ each year, distributed widely, with each balloon carrying either six AA alkaline batteries or two potentially toxic lithium batteries.

[U]nlike the United States, which attempts to recover and re-use some of these devices, Canada simply leaves the balloons and their radiosondes wherever they happen to fall — which is often in remote and pristine wilderness areas and in waterways.

France has experimented with a parachute-based system to recover its radiosondes. Switzerland recovers and re-uses more than 60 per cent of the devices that it launches. It has been estimated that the United States reuses about 18 per cent of its radiosondes.

Using data from 2014, Vancouver-based Amit Kumar, who is writing his PhD thesis at the University of British Columbia on the fate of electronic waste in Canada, estimates that only about 20 per cent of the 725,000 tonnes of e-waste generated in Canada that year was collected for proper disposal or recycling. Much of the remainder ended up in landfills, where there is a risk of toxins seeping into groundwater and contaminating soil.