James Howells, an IT worker from Newport, South Wales, is on the search for buried bitcoin. He stored his funds on a hard drive he says he threw out in 2013. With the price of bitcoin at close to $11,800 in early December 2017, his desire to recover the lost cryptocurrency is understandable.
The price of digital currency has surged 1,000 percent since the start of 2017. The hard drive held 7,500 coins in total and would now be worth about $88 million. However, his success in recovering his fortune is doubtful, as Howells himself admits.
Howells first visited the landfill where he believed the hard drive to be buried in 2013 and was dismayed to see how large it was. The landfill manager told him his trash would have been buried quickly and that within three to four months, waste could sink significantly to the point of being submerged several feet.
The hard drive is now likely buried under about 200,000 tons of garbage.
Howells took apart the computer he had been mining bitcoin on after spilling a drink on it. He had been mining the cryptocurrency since 2009. This type of “mining” involves solving math problems to gain cryptofunds. Howells kept the hard drive in a drawer, but it was later thrown out.
He explained this as a distracted choice during a move, in which he forgot there was anything left on a hard drive he hadn’t used in years. He later heard about other early cryptocurrency enthusiasts making a significant profit selling off their bitcoin and realized his tragic mistake.
“I haven’t tried to search for the hard drive yet as I haven’t been permitted to look, despite having financial backing in place and engaging the local council sometimes,” Howells says.
Digging up a modern landfill could cost millions and brings with it severe environmental risks including fires and the release of toxic gases. But Howell’s still not ready to abandon the possibility.
Howells is not alone in his frustration – in 2012, Editor Campbell Simpson of Gizmodo threw away a hard drive with the same currency that would now be worth close to $16 million. Simpson’s take on the situation is that “I don’t even especially want to find those bitcoin, though. I’m really happy with my life at the moment.”
These two individuals who have been in the spotlight are surely not the only early bitcoin miners and investors who made a wrong turn and missed out on the boom.
While Howells aims to persevere in his search, he is keeping a sense of humor about his now-famous dilemma on Twitter, where he describes himself as a “Bitcoin Pioneer,” and “Bitcoin Cash Proponent.”
On December 2, 2017, he tweeted a diagram of a modern landfill and replaced the caption with “Bitcoin cold storage vault.”