Somewhere between June and August 2013, IT worker James Howells accidentally threw away a hard drive containing 7.500 bitcoins. Back then the digital wallet was almost worthless in value.
Fast-forward to the present and the situation is vastly different. The cryptocurrency shot up in value and 2021 has been particularly phenomenal, with one bitcoin topping $40,000 for the first time and Brian Estes, Founder of the crypto fund “Off the Chain Capital”, predicting that it could even hit somewhere between $100.000 and $288.000 by the end of 2021.
This now makes the hard drive and its 7.500 bitcoins worth around $275 million. As a result, Howells approached the Newport City Council in Wales to request permission to excavate a landfill site area where he believes the hard drive is.
“I offered to donate 25% or £52.5 million” — $71.7 million — “to the city of Newport in order to distribute to all local residents who live in Newport should I find and recover the bitcoins,” Howells stated for CNN. “This would work out to approx £175 per person for the entire city (316k population). Unfortunately, they refused the offer and won’t even have a face to face discussion with me on the matter.”
However, aside from the City Council’s refusal Howells also faces another problem: the garbage dump is so vast, there’s no telling where the hard drive might have ended up.
But Howells is confident that he can pinpoint the general location of the hard drive: “The plan would be to dig a specific area of the landfill based on a grid reference system and recover the hard drive whilst adhering to all safety and environmental standards,” he told CNN Friday. “The drive would then be presented to data recovery specialists who can rebuild the drive from scratch with new parts and attempt to recover the tiny piece of data that I need in order to access the bitcoins.”
A statement from Newport City Council to CNN confirmed that they had been “contacted a number of times since 2013 about the possibility of retrieving a piece of IT hardware said to contain bitcoins”, with the spokesperson specifying that the City Council was not permitted to excavate the site: ”The council has told Mr. Howells on a number of occasions that excavation is not possible under our licensing permit and excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area. The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds – without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order.“
Bitcoin was created in 2009 by an unknown person or group using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, following the housing market crash. This might seem like a solid investment for the future, but Bitcoin is a highly volatile cryptocurrency and values tend to vastly fluctuate. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), in just one day in 2013, the price of bitcoins fell by 61%, while in 2014 the one-day price drop record was 80%.