A new study published by MIT uses some shaking equivalents to help us understand the environmental impact of ledgers like Bitcoin. As they characteristically state, the e-waste from a single Bitcoin transaction is like throwing two iPhone minis in the bin, while the annual amount of discarded hardware is the same as that thrown away by the entire country of the Netherlands. That’s a mountainous 30.7 metric kilotons of equipment per year.
The researchers made their calculations and found out that each Bitcoin transaction equates to at least 272 grams of e-waste. This is so high because simply put, these devices are working to their maximum all the time, so their lifespan is way shorter than what it would be if they were deployed in an office, or even in a gaming computer. Mining hardware lasts for about 1.29 years, running on 100% to solve cryptographic problems that are meant to help keep the ledger secured and the transactions verified. In return, they are rewarded with crypto coins, and of course, hardware decay.
To make matters worse, miners use specialized hardware that cannot be easily repurposed for deployment in other domains, so it makes no sense to make repairs to these parts. This is also a problem when a ledger halves the payouts, so older and not so powerful/efficient hardware becomes obsolete by not being as profitable as a new piece of equipment. This contributes to the e-waste problem even more, as there’s nothing stopping the miners from constantly buying new stuff since they’re making so much money out of this process.
Another idea is to promote a new generation of environment-friendly cryptocurrencies that rely on “proof of time and space” instead of “proof of work”. Unfortunately, none of these initiatives managed to find success in the wild, and they even raised controversial issues on their own, like people hoarding hard drives and creating market shortages, and also wrecking SSDs within mere months. For now, the e-waste problem is not only still there, but it’s getting worse, and fast.