Bitcoin produces 30,000 tons of electronic waste every year. A problem that shouldn’t simply be dismissed.
When it comes to energy consumption, Bitcoin is a popular scapegoat. Comparisons are popular according to which the digital store of values consumes electricity on the scale of entire nation states. But also garbage, or more precisely: electronic scrap, is ideally suited for giving the image of the largest decentralized project in human history a flaw.
A recently published research paper , on which the self-confessed Bitcoin critic (and central banker) Alex de Vries also worked, attempted to quantify the mountain of rubbish that Bitcoin produces. In “ Bitcoin’s growing e-waste problem ”, the authors write that the network’s electronic waste adds up to 30,000 tons annually. The number is the result of estimates of the computing power of all mining farms, their energy efficiency and the operating costs of the miners.
Since mining devices are specialized hardware, old devices do not end up as recycling goods in other data centers, but in the landfill, as the authors conclude. The resulting mountain of rubbish is also significant because the devices have a comparatively short lifespan. According to the paper, the ASICs are only in operation for an average of one year and four months; then they end up on the trash. According to the authors, a pleasant outlier is the Antminer S9 from Bitmain with an average lifespan of 3.39 years.
272 grams of garbage per transaction
“Miners are consuming more and more ephemeral hardware, which could exacerbate the growth in e-waste worldwide … the moment they become unprofitable determines the point in time they become e-waste,” the research paper said.
If you downgrade the estimated 30 kilotons, you get around 272 grams of electronic waste per Bitcoin transaction – a rather conceivable but probably also misleading order of magnitude.
As a Bitcoiner, you tend to dismiss criticism of Bitcoin’s environmental record as an FUD. At the end of the day, don’t all industries create waste? And do the 30,000 tonnes of 50 million tonnes of e-waste produced by BTC each year even make any difference? After all, the network only accounts for 0.06 percent of annual global electronic waste production. Sure, all of this is correct – and yet it does not diminish the responsibility of Bitcoiners to find answers to the problems.
Criticism is appropriate
Because in the end the allegations are legitimate. In contrast to Bitcoin’s energy debate , to which we have already dealt in detail in issue 49 of the Kryptokompass , unrecyclable garbage cannot be glossed over. Of course there are industries that produce significantly more scrap. Nevertheless, it is not wrong to raise objective criticism of the environmental impact of Bitcoin. Electronic scrap can have fatal consequences for people and the environment, as it produces toxic fumes and can contaminate the groundwater with lead, for example.
Unfortunately, a simple solution is not really in sight either. De Vries and his colleagues are calling for the Bitcoin protocol to be converted to proof-of-stake. But anyone who has really dealt intensively with the cryptocurrency knows that this is simply not a viable option.
There is no alternative to Proof of Work
Proof of Work is Bitcoin’s core and as such is non-negotiable. It would also be conceivable to leave the ASICs connected to the network longer than before and, under certain circumstances, to accept unprofitable mining at short notice. Because if the Bitcoin price rises , a previous net loss could turn into a profit. It may not always be necessary to dispose of old devices immediately. A used goods market for functioning miners would also help. And indeed: on coinminer.com you can find a number of discarded ASICs for relatively little money.
As with all waste-intensive industries, mining should also set its own environmental standards and establish high recycling rates. The Bitcoin community should also campaign for this.