- Each bitcoin transaction creates at least 272 grams of electronic waste.
- This is the weight of two iPhone 12 minis, according to a new document.
- The researchers said that “bitcoin miners go through an increasing amount of short-lived hardware,” the authors said.
A bitcoin transaction creates the same amount of electronic pollution as throwing away two iPhones. This contamination is due to the short lifespan of computers used in cryptocurrency “mining,” economists have found.
The bitcoin network generates 30.7 metric kilotonnes of waste annually as mining equipment is disposed of, according to a study by economists Alex de Vries and Christian Stoll.
There were roughly 112.5 million transactions in 2020. This “equates to at least 272 grams of e-waste per bitcoin transaction,” they said in a document released this week.
In fact, that’s the weight of two iPhone 12 minis, as The Guardian noted.
Critics have long focused on bitcoin’s huge electricity consumption. But De Vries and Stoll said that people “until now have been unaware that bitcoin miners go through an increasing amount of short-lived hardware.”
Bitcoin mining uses computers that solve complex puzzles to verify transactions; these are rewarded with new coins. It is very power consuming and most miners use specialized computer chips known as ASICs.
The race for bitcoin in the virtual world creates pollution in the real world
As computers compete with each other, miners are driven to use the newest and most powerful devices. And because mining computers often only serve one purpose, they quickly become obsolete.
“The lifespan of bitcoin mining devices is limited to just 1.29 years,” De Vries and Stoll wrote about the contamination of cryptocurrencies.
They added that the 30.7 kilotons of waste that bitcoin produces each year is comparable to the amount of small waste of telecommunications and IT equipment produced by the Netherlands.
For its part, the ethereum network is trying to tackle the problem of crypto mining waste by switching to a network called ‘proof of stake’. In that system, users are betting on obtaining the right to verify transactions, rather than using large amounts of computing power.
However, De Vries and Stoll – from the Dutch central bank and MIT respectively – pointed out that the traditional financial system also generates huge amounts of waste: from servers in bank branches to old ATMs.
“The 6 billion payment cards produced annually, with a useful life of three to four years, illustrate the large scale,” they said in the article, published in the magazine Resources, Conservation & Recycling.
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