Bitcoin generates 272 g of e-waste per transaction on an average: Study
The new study titled “Bitcoin’s growing e-waste problem” was published in the journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling on September 13, 2021.
The new study titled “Bitcoin’s growing e-waste problem” was published in the journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling on September 13, 2021, and quantifies that the entire network already generates up to 30.7 metric kilotons of electronic waste per year. “This level is comparable to the small IT equipment waste produced by a country such as the Netherlands.
Key points mentioned:
Bitcoin's annual e-waste generation adds up to 30.7 metric kilotons as of May 2021.
This level is comparable to the small IT equipment waste produced by a country such as the Netherlands.
On average Bitcoin generates 272 g of e-waste per transaction processed on the blockchain.
Bitcoin could produce up to 64.4 metric kilotons of e-waste at peak Bitcoin price levels seen in early 2021.
The soaring demand for mining hardware may disrupt global semiconductor supply chains.
Amid Elon Musk’s decision earlier this year to stop Tesla from accepting bitcoin as payment has led to fresh scrutiny of the cryptocurrency’s environmental impact. Tesla had halted purchases of its vehicles with bitcoin due to concerns over the “rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for bitcoin mining.” He alluded to data from researchers at Cambridge University which shows bitcoin’s electricity usage spiking this year.
Energy consumption has become the latest flashpoint for cryptocurrency. Critics decry it as an energy hog while proponents hail it for being less intensive than the current global economy.
Miners of the cryptocurrency each year produce 30,700 tons of e-waste, Alex de Vries and Christian Stoll estimate. That averages 272g (9.5oz) per transaction, they say.
By comparison, an iPhone 13 weighs 173g (6.1oz). Miners earn money by creating new Bitcoins, but the computing used consumes large amounts of energy. They audit Bitcoin transactions in exchange for an opportunity to acquire the digital currency. But as the computers used for mining become obsolete, it also generates lots of e-waste. The researchers estimate Bitcoin mining devices have an average lifespan of only 1.29 years.
As a result, 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.
As electricity is a key cost for Bitcoin miners, they have sought out ever more efficient processors. That has seen a move to highly specialized chips called Application-specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs). But ASICs are so specialized that as they become obsolete, they cannot be "repurposed for another task or even another type of cryptocurrency mining algorithm", the researchers write. But while the chips can't be reused, much of the weight of Bitcoin mining equipment is made up of components such as "metal casings and aluminum heat-sinks" which could be recycled. Globally just over 17% of all e-waste is recycled. However, the number is probably less in some of the countries in which most miners are based, where in many cases regulations on e-waste are also poor.
Many industries are struggling with a global chip shortage. In addition to producing large amounts of e-waste the researchers argue that "rapidly cycling through millions of mining devices may disrupt the global supply chain of various other electronic devices". They suggest that one solution to the problem of e-waste would be for Bitcoin to change the way transactions are verified, to a different less computing-intensive system.
The article concludes that the most desirable solution to this e-waste output would be to replace the (Proof-of-Work) mining system in its entirety. Alternatives like Proof-of-Stake “remove the incentive to engage in a computational arms race and only require a device with an Internet connection to participate.”
By implementing this in Bitcoin, the network would address both its energy consumption and e-waste output.
Follow on Twitter