Bitcoin mining creating massive waste

By Laura Berrill
Bitcoin cryptocurrency miners producing estimated 30,700 tonnes of waste every year

The finding comes from research by data scientist and Bitcoin specialist Alex de Vries and semiconductor industry adviser, Christian Stoll.

The amount averages 272g (9.5oz) per transaction, they say. Miners earn money by creating new Bitcoins, but the computing used consumes large amounts of energy.

Attention has been focused on the electricity mining consumes and the greenhouse gas pollution caused as a result.

Additionally, as the computers used for mining become obsolete, this also generates lots of e-waste. The researchers estimate Bitcoin mining devices have an average lifespan of only 1.29 years.

The research has been published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling.

Move to Application-Specific Integrated Circuits

As electricity is a key cost for Bitcoin miners, they have sought out ever more efficient processors and that has seen a move to highly specialised chips called Application-specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs).

However, ASICs are so specialised that as they become obsolete, they cannot be "repurposed for another task or even another type of cryptocurrency mining algorithm", the researchers write.

While these chips can't be reused, much of the weight of Bitcoin mining equipment is made up of components such as metal casings and aluminium 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.

Ongoing chip shortages

Many industries are struggling with an ongoing shortage of microchips and the researchers add that rapid cycling through mining devices may also “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.

 

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