Electricity can be wasted, even in profitable businesses. In fact, one way an acquirer might improve the profitability of a business they purchased is to reduce its electrical usage while producing the same result. Everyone in business calls the excess electricity used “waste” once it is discovered to be so. Just because it is economically *possible* to waste something doesn’t mean it isn’t wasteful to do so.
Further, whether electricity has physical weight or not is completely irrelevant. Time is the most valuable and scarce resource humans have, and it is entirely weightless and rather abstract. It is indeed possible to “waste time” achieving an economic goal — that is, to put excess effort into something that does not achieve the desired result. This is still waste, even though it isn’t the packaging waste the author points to. Electricity is a scarce resource.
In my view, the major “waste” in the Bitcoin platform is the hunt for nonces that solve the hash problem. The effort being expended (in terms of electricity) isn’t intrinsically valuable effort. Obviously it has some value — it prevents an individual miner from cheating the system by forcing them to do a menial task. But the task itself doesn’t add value.
In the future, a crypto currency that can do something useful with those cycles — i.e., putting the electricity to good use while also ensuring the blockchain cannot be overcome by an individual miner — would be an enormous improvement vs. the current Bitcoin setup. It’s a shame that the processing power devoted to looking for nonces can’t be devoted to looking for something more useful to humanity — but Bitcoin is not setup that way.
I would compare the waste in Bitcoin to the waste in any other industry. Take taxi drivers: any time not carrying passengers from one place to another is “waste.” For example — the time and has a cab driver has to use to pick up a passenger in the first place — that’s “wasted” and if the time and gas could be put to better use, that would really help. Walmart is getting creative right now thinking about using their employee’s home-bound commutes to deliver packages to customers. The idea being the incremental cost for an employee driving home to drop off a package is negligible and therefore makes productive time out of unproductive time (and also, the employee gets a nice bonus for dropping the package on the way home).
Saying that Bitcoin is “wasting” electricity isn’t necessarily a criticism of the entire system. But it is a valid observation that there is a large chunk of “wasted work” that goes into finding acceptable nonces and it would be better if the algorithm that protected the network from bad actors could also be doing *something else* useful at the same time.