The environmental impact of “Bitcoin” is incredible. After the electricity, a mountain of e-waste appears

According to a new analysis by economists from the Dutch Central Bank and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single Bitcoin transaction generates the same amount of e-waste as throwing two iPhones in the trash.

Although Bitcoin’s carbon footprint has been well researched, less attention has been paid to the massive shift in computer used to mine cryptocurrency.

The chips for computer specialized products called ASICs are sold for no other purpose than to run the algorithms that protect the Bitcoin network, a process called “mining of bitcoin”which rewards those who participate in recording Bitcoin transactions. But since only the newest chips are energy efficient enough to mine profitably, efficient miners must constantly replace ASICs with newer and more powerful ones.

“The miners of bitcoin are still only 1.29 years old, “write researchers Alex de Vries and Christian Stoll in the paper on the growing problem of electronic waste associated with the extraction of bitcoin published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling. .

As a result, “We estimate that the entire Bitcoin network currently recycles 30.7 tonnes of equipment per year. This number is comparable to the amount of small telecommunications equipment waste produced by a country like the Netherlands,” the researchers added. .

The environmental impact of “Bitcoin” is incredible.  After the electricity, a mountain of e-waste appears


According to economists, the Bitcoin network processed 112.5 million transactions in 2020 (compared to 539 billion processed by traditional payment service providers in 2019), which means that every single transaction “equates to at least 272 grams of e-waste. “. And that’s the weight of two iPhone 12 devices.

The reason why e-waste is a tale problem for cryptocurrencies is that, unlike most computing devices, ASIC chips have no other alternative use to mining than bitcoin and, if they cannot be used to extract bitcoin in profitably, they will have no future purpose.

The researchers note that it is theoretically possible for these devices to regain their ability to operate profitably in later, if Bitcoin prices suddenly rise and mining income increases.

They add: “However, there are many factors that generally prevent the life of the mining hardware from being extended in significantly … It costs money to store mining hardware and the longer it is stored, the less likely it is to be profitable. “

Extraction of bitcoin (Reuters)

Extraction of bitcoin (Reuters)

The research authors also warn that the e-waste problem is likely to increase if the price of Bitcoin continues to rise, as it spurs more investment and replacement of ASIC hardware.

The research paper concluded that if the company wanted to reduce the e-waste problem, it would have to replace “the entire Bitcoin mining process with a more sustainable alternative.”

Other alternatives to the bitcoin they have been less successful in reducing their environmental impact. Chia, a cryptocurrency based on a time-and-place”, has been accused of leading to a shortage of hard disk, a type of storage media common in computer fast.

“Instead of just wasting electricity, Chia is devouring SSDs at an astonishing rate and has completely destroyed the large hard drive market,” said David Gerrard, a cryptocurrency expert.

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