Powering bitcoin mining machines with literal garbage is an emerging trend within the mining sector as a crop of new companies focus on harnessing this abundant and otherwise wasted energy resource. Contrary to the prevalent political narrative that bitcoin mining destroys the planet, the efforts of these landfill miners demonstrate that nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the net positive effects of these mining teams are enough to silence environmental critics forever. This article explores the early stages of companies building mining operations at landfills and looks at the potential opportunities that this resource — read: trash — presents for Bitcoin.
Bitcoin’s Emerging Trash Trend
Most instances of discussing landfills and bitcoin together usually involve very early adopters who mined absurd amounts of cheap bitcoin on their computers and subsequently lost or discarded their hard drives that contained fortunes. One early bitcoin miner is even planning an expensive landfill excavation project to retrieve half a billion dollars in misplaced digital gold. Another landfill made headlines because of its response to an inordinately large amount of “incompressible foam” that one bitcoin mining company tried to dump.
These crazy stories aside, today’s bitcoin miners target landfills for power to earn new bitcoin, not as targets for retrieving old ones. Vespene Energy and XcelPlus International are two of the earliest entrants into this new segment of the bitcoin mining industry. I have heard of other similar projects currently building in stealth will join them following public announcements coming in the next year or two. In a recent study on the environmental effects of bitcoin mining, the White House directly mentioned landfill-focused bitcoin mining efforts.
But not all approaches to landfill-powered bitcoin mining are the same. Vespene, for example, “uses landfill methane to fuel bitcoin mining,” according to its website. This business model can quickly affect a non-trivial amount of methane emissions reduction at scale since landfill waste is responsible for about 11% of global methane emissions. XcelPlus, by comparison, uses plasma gasification machines to generate thermal energy and also earn disposal fees for the trash it receives from landfills on top of bitcoin mining rewards — a nice two-for-one deal!
Quantifying The Global Garbage Supply
So, exactly how abundant is trash as a resource for bitcoin mining? The short answer is: very.
Here’s a bit of data to detail just how plentiful the world’s supply of garbage is:
- Humans produce 4.5 trillion pounds of trash each year.
- The size of an average landfill is roughly 600 acres.
Getting an accurate tally of how many landfills exist in the world is almost impossible (Google certainly isn’t any help). But there’s a garbage clock that provides a real-time count of how much trash is created each day. Landfills can be an energy bonanza for bitcoin miners.
North America has made headlines for becoming an emerging Mecca to bitcoin mining companies. So, for the purpose of this article, it’s worth noting that the U.S. alone is home to more than 3,000 active landfills and roughly 10,000 inactive ones. Canada has roughly 3,000 landfills of its own, according to a discussion paper published earlier this year. Both countries were listed in the top-five total trash producing nations. And both countries ranked as the top two countries by per capita waste generation.
The line chart below visualizes annual growth in the world’s total garbage supply from estimates published by Smithsonian Magazine in an article asking when the world will hit “peak garbage.” The answer? Not any time soon.
Advantages Of Landfill Bitcoin Mining
Garbage has some unique advantages as a fuel source that readers should not overlook. For one thing, its abundance opens a massive opportunity for potential hash rate growth as landfill methane capture and plasma gasification infrastructure is installed. And the data cited in the previous section more than corroborates the plentifulness of trash. For another, landfills are globally distributed — trash is everywhere. Similar to the distribution of the Bitcoin network itself, miners can go almost anywhere to turn trash into energy for bitcoin mining. Also, this form of energy is truly stranded and wasted, making miners not just a buyer of last resort for this resource, but also one of the only buyers. Landfill methane reduction by other means is limited.
Lastly, and most importantly, bitcoin mining at landfills supercharges the environmentally-friendly narratives around bitcoin mining that counteract seemingly non-stop climate activist criticisms. Some reports label landfills as “super emitters.” Landfills are the world’s third-largest anthropogenic source of methane. And of the trillions of pounds of trash produced each year, some “extremely conservative” estimates suggest barely 33% of that waste is handled in any sort of environmentally-conscious manner.
The stage could not be better set for bitcoin miners to consume literal trash and reduce methane emissions. XcelPlus, for example, flatly states the pollution-reduction advantages of its form of bitcoin mining. According to its website, “The amount of energy consumed by the Bitcoin mining process is vast, expensive and polluting… By funneling waste coal, garbage and other hazardous waste streams through our XcelPlus Plasma gasifier, it can convert 50 tons of waste per day into energy.”
It's not hyperbolic to say this could be game over for environmental criticisms of bitcoin mining.
The Future Of Trash And Bitcoin
Most of the headlines from the past few years about miners using stranded energy resources have focused on conventional fuels like solar, natural gas and others. But garbage production is almost unending, to the point that some analysts say we are “running out of room” to store it all. And now, bitcoin mining companies are building and deploying technology to harness literal trash as an energy source for mining. Not only is this a somewhat infinitely renewable resource (using the term in an unconventional but not inaccurate way), but powering the Bitcoin network with trash also undercuts environmental criticisms of bitcoin since the benefits of limiting trash emissions are indisputable.
Landfill mining puts the resourcefulness and creativity of bitcoin mining on full display as magic internet money entrepreneurs use energy resources that no one else will or can exploit. Soon, infrastructure for the honey badger of money will be supported by actual garbage, making the world’s largest decentralized financial network more resistant than ever.
This is a guest post by Zack Voell. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.