The result of bitcoin mining is electronic waste (e-waste) and its annual quantity is the same as the tiny IT equipment waste generated from an area just like the Netherlands, research shows.
According to estimates of Alex de Vries and Christian Stoll, miners of the cryptocurrency annually generate about 30,700 tonnes of e-waste. That averages 272g (9.5oz) per transaction, they said while the average weight of an iPhone 13 is 173g (6.1oz).
Miners earn money when they create new bitcoins, but the computing process that is used for mining consumes large amounts of energy. The miners conducted an audit of bitcoin transactions in exchange for a chance to accumulate the digital currency.
The attention of the researchers was focused on the electricity the mining process consumes – which currently is amounts to more than what is consumed by the Philippines – and the result of such large energy consumption by a single process also generate copious amounts of greenhouse emissions.
At the same time, the computers that are used for the mining processes often become old and obsolete, it also generates a large quantity of e-waste.
The researchers estimated that bBitcoin mining devices have a mean lifespan of just 1.29 years.
The result is that the quantity of e-waste that is generated at the end of the life cycle of the computers used in the mining of cryptocurrencies is like the “small IT and telecommunication equipment” waste of a country just like the Netherlands, researchers said., The category of e-waste considered in the study comprises of mobile phones, personal computers, printers, and smartphones. The research was published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling.
And as electricity is the main cost for bitcoin miners, they are always on the lookout for ever more efficient processors. That has resulted in miners choosing ot opt for highly specialised chips called Application-specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs).
However, the very high level of specialization of ASICs also means that as they become obsolete, they cannot be “repurposed for an additional task or maybe another sort of cryptocurrency mining algorithm”, the researchers noted.
But while is it virtually not possible to reuse the chips, that bulk of the of the weight of the e-waste generated from bitcoin mining equipment is comprised of components such as “metal casings and aluminium heat-sinks” which are recyclable.
However only a little of 17 per cent of all e-waste is actually recycled globally. But the quantity of recycled e-waste is potentially lower in eth countries where most of the bitcoin miners are typically based and where there are generally poor regulations for e-waste disposal and recycling.
Currently, a number of industries across the world are facing a crippling chip shortage.
The reseahcers however also argued that in addition to producing large amounts of e-waste, “rapidly cycling through many mining devices may disrupt the worldwide supply chain of varied other electronic devices”.
They suggest that one solution to the matter of e-waste would be for bitcoin to vary the way transactions are verified, and shift to a particularly less computing-intensive system
(Adapted from BBC.com)