Black Friday for owner after $8m in Bitcoin lost to landfill

Black Friday for owner after $8m in Bitcoin lost to landfill

Summary: James Howells wishes he could turn back time after throwing away a hard drive containing a fortune in Bitcoin


This must be the biggest facepalm ever. A Welsh Bitcoin owner is banging his head against his desk after throwing away a hard drive containing Bitcoin worth almost $8m.

Bitcoin landfill ZDNet Eileen Brown
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Bitcoin is a peer to peer electronic money and payment network.  It uses cryptography for digital signatures and it is difficult to associate with the identity of buyers and sellers. 

Bitcoin currency is gaining traction with online retailers with about 600 businesses willing to accept payment in Bitcoin 

James Howells from Newport in Wales purchased 7,500 Bitcoins (BTC) in 2009. Back then a dollar was worth 1,309.03 BTC so the value of his purchase was under six dollars. Howells stored the Bitcoin in his electronic wallet on his laptop hard drive and forgot all about them.

After “an incident” with his previous laptop, he stored its hard drive in a drawer and forgot about the Bitcoin. Earlier this year after sorting out his IT equipment the drive was thrown into the garbage. “All the files I believed I needed were already on my new computer” Howells said.

The value of one Bitcoin has now reached $1000 making the Bitcoin that Howells owns worth over $7.5m.

“As soon as I put it in the bin at home I had a second thought — you know you have never thrown a hard drive out before – why start now?” he said.  The thought was just “ a little demon in the back of my head”.

“I did not take it out — it stayed in the bin and came down to the landfill site with the other bags.”

The penny (or should that be Bitcoin?) dropped when he started to hear stories about the Silk Road site shut down and about other individuals making profit from Bitcoin. Howells realised that he had 7,500 Bitcoin on a hard drive that he had thrown out months ago.

Howells went to the council landfill site to try to retrieve his hard drive. Unfortunately, there is little chance of finding something the size of your hand in a site the size of a soccer pitch.

The manager of the landfill site told Howells that anything that had been thrown away “three of four months ago” would be buried up to five feet deep in waste. This site does not sort waste so there is no specific area for computer waste for Howells to look through.

The wallet on the hard drive contains the private key for the Bitcoin. Without this file, the Bitcoin can not be retrieved as there is no central server that records the initial transaction.

The waste is compressed and buried. There is no guarantee that the data could be recovered — even if the hard drive could be found.

It must be a terrible feeling, knowing that you have thrown away a potential fortune by sorting out your IT junk.

Howells spent six dollars — the cost of a beer on the purchase.  And now, as he looks out over the huge landfill site, his Black Friday is very black indeed. 

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • This is a real issue.

    This is a real issue. Your money is literally stored on your hard drive. Not at a bank.

    Backups are important - but we all know how poorly that works out for most people.

    Until major banks start accepting Bitcoin, as well as local merchants, I don't think it's a viable currency.
  • Bunk. There's not a bank in the world that

    would exchange those coins for $8 million in cash. He didn't lose $8 million dollars.
  • Oops again

    At least bills and coins don't disappear forever if their owner loses them. But that is the way the Bitcoin protocol was designed.
    John L. Ries
    • Time to end the FUD (fear uncertainty and despair)

      For the owner of cash they sure do disappear if they are tossed in the garbage. BTC wallets can be backed up and brain wallets can be recovered with a phrase. Tossing a hard drive in the trash is just dumb and environmentally harmful.

      Just because a bank won't take them (too busy printing currency to cover bad debts...) Does not mean they have no value. They can be sold for cash at or on, gift cards for merchants can be bought from gyft and more and more businesses take them every day. I have just opened the option with my business and will report my earning just like any other. BTC is genius ad all the FUDs won't make is go away. Time to evolve how we see money and a currency that cannot be counterfeited or printed beyond real value is pure genius.
      Eric Swartz
  • Ironic...

    as I read this post and comments, arrived at the bottom and there was an advertisement...for waste management! Of course, not everyone will see the same ad, but I had to chuckle a little when I read it.
  • Mining Bitcoins on the Cloud

    Should've backed up his wallet. He could've been mining Bitcoins INSTANTLY with a service like CEX:

    Don't even need your own hardware anymore. Instant, scalable, and liquid - allowing you to sell your mining space to anyone else at any time.

    Poor guy.
    Jake Brennan
  • Some very enterprising individuals are going to make their way... this landfill.
    • I'm under the impression...

      ...that they'd need to break the encryption on the wallet.
      John L. Ries
  • landfills can find anything

    If this was a murder victims hand and the date of the disposal was known most landfills have an organizational protocol that maps which trucks dumped where. It can be found.
    Eric Swartz