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28 Nov, 2013 11:00

Bitcoin blunder: Man throws $7.2mn of crypto-currency into landfill

Bitcoin blunder: Man throws $7.2mn of crypto-currency into landfill

A computer programmer from South Wales has accidentally thrown a digital wallet with 7,500 bitcoins into landfill. Now the hard drive worth $7.2million is buried four feet down.

"You know when you put something in the bin, and in your head, say to yourself 'that's a bad idea'? I really did have that," James Howells, who has literary thrown out a fortune in bitcoins, told the Guardian.

This summer he was clearing up his desk and discovered the hard drive from a long-broken Dell laptop.  He thought it was rubbish and threw the drive into the Docksway landfill site near Newport, Wales.

Only last Friday he realized that the drive contained nearly 7,500 bitcoins, worth around $6.75 million. Recently, bitcoins saw a slight rise and now the current price of the digital wallet would be $7.2 million.

Howells ‘mined’ the bitcoins back in 2009, when the currency cost almost nothing and was known only in narrow tech circles. At that time, it was rather easy to generate digital currency by computing it. Now the same operation requires high-cost computing power. 

He had been running the program on his laptop for a week but then stopped after his girlfriend complained about the laptop being “too noisy” as it was actually performing the programs needed to create new bitcoins. 

@alexhern if anyone wants to donate to my Bitcoin recovery fund... 15JHTg6g4zokAM23vJVcL8DbAAjA4BhsLH - not that I'm expecting anything :)

— James Howells (@howelzy) November 27, 2013

In 2010, Howells’ Dell broke after he accidentally poured lemonade on it. The dismantled parts were thrown away or sold. But he still kept the hard drive for three years until this summer clean-up which cost him a fortune. In fact, Howells hadn’t paid much attention to the bitcoin rate. 

“I hadn't kept up on Bitcoin, I'd been distracted. I'd had a couple of kids since then, I'd been doing the house up, and forgot about it until it was in the news again," he said.

When Howells realized what had actually happened, he was “searching high and low.” 

“I've tried to retrieve files from all of my hard drives just in case I had a backup file, or had copied it by accident. And … nothing."


The hard drive contains a special cryptographic ‘private key’ for getting access to bitcoins. Without this key and any other backup, the ‘money’ is lost forever. And any treasure hunters won’t be able to get the access to money even if they find the digital wallet.

The IT programmer even went to the landfill site and explained the situation to the local workers. However they said “something from three or four months ago would be about three or four feet down."

"I'm at the point where it's either laugh about it or cry about it," he says. 

Howells decided to recover the hard drive himself, but it’s hardly possible as “they need a team of 15 guys, two [excavator] diggers, and all the personal protection equipment.”

After dismissing the idea of ever getting his virtual money back, he decided to ask for help in recovering it.

“If anyone wants to donate to my bitcoin recovery fund- not that I'm expecting anything,“ he tweeted.

He even welcomes any treasure hunters turning up to the landfill site, saying that it’s “fair enough if they were to offer me a share,” but “if they were to go out and find it for themselves it's my mistake throwing the hard drive out, at the end of the day." Howells says.

@howelzy@alexhern --> just read the story ~ good luck, man! ...definitely think a kickstarted movie would be incredible; i'd donate...

— Kevin Fink (@iHaveThisIdea) November 28, 2013

Many Twitter users have already offered him the chance to make a movie about this lost-bitcoin story. Howells tweets that he’s “not feeling too confident about the movie idea but you never know…”

Despite losing his bitcoins, he believes that this currency is the future of money. 

“It’s the next step of the internet. We had everything else at the time; Google, Facebook. The only thing that was missing was internet money." 

Bitcoin, a virtual currency invented in 2008, has gone mainstream and now it can be used to pay for some online services, and can even be retrieved from an ATM. According to Bitcoincharts, nearly 12 million bitcoins are currently in circulation.

In 2008, its actual value was next to nothing and in 2010 it was less than $0.01- $0.08. Later, in 2011-2012, bitcoin prices saw both ups and downs rising from $0.30 to $32.00 and then falling to $2. 

Since then, the so-called crypto-currency's value has soared. On Wednesday it broke the $1,000 threshold, which marked a growth of over 4,000 percent since the beginning of the year. However, the latest bitcoin rate saw a slight decline, showing $960 per unit on the Mt.Gox exchange.