One bitcoin transaction generates the same amount of electronic waste as throwing away two smartphones, economists report.
Due to the high demands on computers that mine Bitcoin, the devices have an extremely short shelf life.
The average lifespan of a bitcoin mining device is just 1.29 years, according to a new report.
This produces a lot of waste: about 33,800 tons per year, or the amount of small IT and telecommunications equipment that is thrown away throughout the Netherlands.
Each transaction produces 9.5 grams of e-waste, about the weight of two iPhone 12 minis.
Researchers worry that, with the increasing interest in cryptocurrency, the Bitcoin trash could soon more than double in size.
Scroll down for video
The average lifespan of a bitcoin mining device is only 1.29 years, resulting in about 33,800 tons of e-waste per year. That is equivalent to all small IT and telecommunications equipment that is thrown away throughout the Netherlands
Bitcoin mining uses special computers to solve complex mathematical calculations and generate a cryptocurrency coin.
All over the world, warehouses, or “farms,” are crammed with toaster-sized processors that run day and night.
The process is extremely energy intensive and mining computers, which use special computer chips known as ASICs, are quickly becoming obsolete.
In 2020, there were 112.5 million bitcoin transactions, according to a report in the magazine Resources, conservation and recycling.
That equates to 9.5 grams of e-waste per transaction, or about the weight of two iPhone 12 minis, the guard indicated.
All over the world, warehouses, or “farms,” are crammed with toaster-sized processors dedicated to solving complex math problems and generating cryptocurrency coins. The computers are quickly becoming obsolete
“E-waste poses a growing threat to our environment, from toxic chemicals and heavy metals that leach into the soil, to air and water pollution caused by improper recycling,” wrote co-author Alex de Vries, a data scientist at De Nederlandsche Bank. and Christian Stoll, a researcher at MIT’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
“Bitcoin miners are going through a growing body of short-lived hardware that could exacerbate the growth of global electronic waste,” they continued.
Demand for mining computers is also exacerbating the global shortage of semiconductor chips, De Vries and Stoll said.
As interest in it rises, the researchers worry that the amount of e-waste generated may continue to rise.
Based on Bitcoin’s record-breaking rise this year — a record high of $64,863 in April 2021 — it could reach 74,000 tons of e-waste in a six-month period.
Based on the record-breaking rise in Bitcoin price this year — a record high of $64,863 in April 2021 — cryptocurrency mining could generate 74,000 tons of e-waste in a six-month period.
De Vries and Stoll propose to replace current bitcoin mining strategies with a sustainable alternative, such as a proof of stake.
In that system, users surrender a portion of their coins, rather than using massive amounts of computing power, in exchange for the right to verify transactions and earn more coins.
The blockchain platform Cardano, which has a market cap of $50 billion, uses proof-of-stake.
Ethereum announced plans to move to proof of stake ‘within months’ in May Business Insider reported, although the change has yet to take place.
In addition to the physical waste, Bitcoin uses vast amounts of energy — more than mining gold, platinum and other precious metals, according to a 2018 report in the magazine Nature Sustainability.
Creating Bitcoin to spend or trade consumes about 91 terawatt hours of electricity annually, according to The New York Times, more than generated throughout Finland.
That consumption has increased tenfold in the past five years, the Times reported, and now accounts for nearly half a percent of all electricity consumed worldwide.
A 2018 study warned that the massive computer farms used to mine Bitcoin produce the same amount of carbon dioxide per year as all the cars in the UK combined.
WHAT IS BITCOIN AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
What are Bitcoins?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency – an online type of money that is created using computer code.
It was invented in 2009 by someone who called himself Satoshi Nakamoto – a mysterious computer coder who has never been found or identified.
Bitcoins are created without intermediaries – meaning that banks do not charge any fees when they are exchanged.
They are stored in so-called virtual wallets, also known as blockchains, which keep your money.
One of its selling points is that it can be used to buy things anonymously.
However, this has exposed the currency to criticism and calls for stricter regulation, as terrorists and criminals are used to dealing in drugs and weapons.
How are they made?
Bitcoins are created through a process known as “mining,” where computers solve difficult math problems with a 64-digit solution.
Every time a new math problem is solved, a new Bitcoin is produced.
Some people make powerful computers for the sole purpose of making Bitcoins.
But the number that can be produced is limited – meaning the currency must maintain a certain level of value.
Why are they popular?
Some people value Bitcoin because it is a form of currency that eliminates banking intermediaries and the government – a form of peer-to-peer currency exchange.
And all transactions are publicly recorded, so it is very difficult to fake.
Its value rose in 2017, beating the “tulip mania” of the 17th century and the dotcom boom of the early 2000s to become the largest bubble in history.
But the bubble seemed to have burst and questions arose about what long-term market is for it.
Since then, however, it has taken off again, crossing $60,000 for the first time in March 2021.