According to the latest research, the electronic waste (e-waste) produced by Bitcoin mining annually is similar to the small IT equipment waste of a region like the Netherlands. The estimates show that miners of the pioneer cryptocurrency produce around 370,000 tonnes of e-waste on an annual basis. This means that the average e-waste per transaction is around 272g or 9.5oz. In contrast, the weight of iPhone 13 is around 173g i.e. 6.1oz. Creating new Bitcoins obviously helps the miners in making money, but large amounts of energy is consumed in the computing required for this purpose. Miners essentially audit bitcoin transactions and this provides them the opportunity of earning the cryptocurrency.
There has been a great deal of attention towards how much electricity is consumed during this process, which is currently more than the electricity consumed in Philippines. Furthermore, it also results in greenhouse gas pollution, which is a major environmental concern. However, it should also be noted that as the computers used in the bitcoin mining process become obsolete, they are responsible for generating a great deal of e-waste. Researchers have estimated that the average lifespan of Bitcoin mining devices is around 1.29 years.
This is the reason why researchers concluded that the e-waste produced due to bitcoin mining can be compared to the waste of the small IT and telecommunications equipment of a country, such as the Netherlands. This category comprises of personal computers, mobile phones, telephones and printers. This research was published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling. Since electricity is the primary cost for Bitcoin miners, it is not surprising that they are looking for even more efficient processors than the ones they already have. It is because of this demand that highly specialized chips that are known as Application-specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) have been developed.
The only problem with ASICs is that they are highly specialized and this means that when they become obsolete, it is not possible to repurpose them for a different task, or even for mining another cryptocurrency. The researchers said that while it is not possible to use the chips, a lot of weight of the mining equipment used comprises of components, such as aluminum heat-sinks and metal casings, and these could be recycled. The global recycling rate of e-waste is around 17%, but there is a good chance that the number is significantly lower in some countries where miners are based because they tend to have poor regulations relating to e-waste.
A number of countries are also dealing with a global chip shortage. Researchers have argued that along with producing large quantities of e-waste, the global supply chain of different electronic devices may also be disrupted via the rapid cycling of millions of mining devices. According to them, one way of dealing with the problem of e-waste is to change the way through which Bitcoin transactions are verified and move to a system that uses less computing power. It is because of environmental concerns associated with Bitcoin that people are jumping towards other cryptocurrencies.