During May, the bitcoin mining industry, which enables the validation of transactions and the creation of the cryptocurrency, produced 30,700 tons of e-waste. The amount equals that of a country like the Netherlands, according to a study.
According to one of the authors of the study, Alex de Vries, “the life cycle of machines, used by miners, ranges from 1.3 to 1.5 years. This is extremely short in comparison with anything else, including smartphone replacement rates, which are regularly criticized.”
As part of bitcoin’s decentralized network, processors validate transactions and verify their participation by guessing results of complex equations.
In exchange, they receive new bitcoins, a process known as “mining,” which requires ultra-specialized and ever-more powerful microprocessors, as older machines quickly become obsolete.
The study published in the scientific journal Elsevier, by economist Alex de Vries and MIT researcher Christian Stoll, says that at the price peak of early 2021, (the amount of waste emitted) could reach 64,400 tons.
Intensive use of electricity
According to the global e-waste monitor report, this represents only a fraction of the total amount of digital waste produced worldwide (53.6 million tons in 2020).
The bitcoin mining activity had already attracted criticism for using a great deal of electricity. According to the Cambridge bitcoin electricity consumption index (CBECI), bitcoin’s annual consumption could be as high as 98 TWh (terawatt hours), or 0.4% of the global electricity production, or a little more than the Philippines’ consumption.
This energy expenditure ensures the network’s security for cryptocurrency enthusiasts. This also troubles some Bitcoin followers, whose numbers are growing rapidly as the price of bitcoin has soaring by more than 330% over the past year – the first cryptocurrency traded on Friday for $47,410.09.
Elon Musk, who invested some of Tesla’s cash in bitcoin, has no longer accepted payments over cryptocurrency until the issue is resolved.