According to estimates by researchers Alex de Vries and Christian Stoll, bitcoin mining produces almost 30,700 tons of waste in electronic waste every year. As cryptocurrencies become more common, they are likely to grow into a bigger environmental problem.
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Bitcoin Mining, An Environmental Issue
The BBC reports that, according to the researchers’ estimates, the 30,700 tons average 272g (9.5oz) per transaction, while an iPhone 13 weighs 173g (6.1oz). This is because bitcoin mining utilizes a large amount of energy.
“Attention has been focused on the electricity this consumes –currently more than the Philippines– and the greenhouse gas pollution caused as a result.”
Amid the calculations, the computers that miners use for bitcoin mining have an average lifespan of 1.29 years, which results in thousands of e-waste tons annually.
“The amount of e-waste produced is comparable to the ‘small IT and telecommunication equipment’ waste of a country like the Netherlands researchers said –a category that includes mobile phones, personal computers, printers, and telephones.”
According to Quartz, any downtime in the bitcoin mining system makes the next coin harder to earn, “and the only way to get an edge over competitors is to run more computers.”
So, when the price of bitcoin increases, so does the mining activity, the energy usage, and the carbon footprint.
Bitcoin Mining Efficiency
In the quest for using increasingly efficient processors that consume less, the bitcoin industry has come across highly specialized chips that go by the name of “Application Specific Integrated Circuit” or ASIC.
However, according to the researchers, once they become obsolete, these chips cannot be reused since “they cannot be repurposed for another task or even another type of cryptocurrency mining algorithm."
These findings are seen against some critical data, which states that as little as 17% of all electronic waste is recycled, partly due to a lack of laws that define what to do with the products that complete their life cycle.
Further, electronic devices are becoming increasingly expensive due to the global chip shortage, as industries like automotive and consumer goods have had to reduce their production output and are struggling to keep up with the demand.
The experts told the BBC that “The rapid passage of millions of devices used for cryptocurrency mining may disrupt the global supply chain for other electronic devices.”
To lessen the environmental effect of bitcoin mining, they believe it is necessary to switch to another mining system that utilizes less hardware.