The Man Who Lost 7,500 BTC to a Landfill, and the Council That Won’t Let Him Go Digging

Imagine that you had over US$100 million worth of Bitcoin rotting away in a landfill and there was nothing you could do about it. Welcome to the world of James Howells, a Welsh IT worker who threw away a hard drive containing Bitcoin he’d mined back in 2009. The Newport South Wales City Council has repeatedly denied his requests to commence digging operations in the trash heap for his treasure trove of digital gold.

One Man’s Treasure Is Literally Trash

You know when you put something in the bin, and in your head, say to yourself ‘that’s a bad idea’?” James Howells rhetorically asked the Guardian. “I really did have that.”

If only that intuition had led him to check his old Dell laptop’s hard drive before tossing it into the trash. Howells had used the computer to mine Bitcoin back in 2009, raking in 7,500 total coins before his girlfriend complained that the operation was too noisy. This was back in the day when Bitcoin could be mined using a GPU or CPU and was trading at less than a dollar. After spilling lemonade on the laptop, he dismantled it, sold its parts, and stowed the hard drive away until that fateful day.

Now, with Bitcoin’s price resting around US$14,500, that hard drive is worth US$108 million, and it’s buried under a mountain of garbage.  

“I had a word with one of the guys [at the landfill], explained the situation,” Howells recalled after realizing what he had done. “And he actually took me out in his truck to where the landfill site is, the current ditch they’re working on. It’s about the size of a football field, and he said something from three or four months ago would be about three or four feet down.”

Around this time, the Bitcoin on Howells’ hard drive was worth US$600,000, a substantial fortune even if minuscule compared to its current valuation.  

City Council Says No to Treasure Hunting

Howells has petitioned the Newport City Council on multiple occasions to let him go dumpster diving for his funds. He even offered the council 10% of his stash if it allowed him to go digging. But the council has stood its ground, and its members are firm in denying Howells access to the landfill.

Explaining the council’s reasoning, a spokesperson argued that “the cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds — without any guarantee of either finding the hardware or it still being in working order.” Furthermore, the council believes that the “excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area.”

The landfill processes approximately 50,000 tons of waste annually, currently holding around 350,000 tons of rubbish. That’s a lot of grime to wade through, and even if Howells were successful, the council holds “it is likely that the hardware would have suffered significant Galvanic corrosion due to the presence of landfill leachates and gasses.”

The council reiterated that it is a criminal offense to trespass onto the landfill without a proper permit, stating that anyone who tries to dig up the hard drive will be charged if caught. That said, it also reassured Howells that the hard drive would be returned to him if it were, by some miracle, easily found.

“I’m at the point where it’s either laugh about it or cry about it,” Howells soberly admitted. “Why aren’t I out there with a shovel now? I think I’m just resigned to never being able to find it.”

If this story piqued your sympathies for a man who could have very well been retired with a garage full of Lamborghinis at this point, you can toss a few coins in his donation jar here.