U.K. man begs to excavate landfill after tossing $184M in bitcoin

Hundreds of storks surround a truck at a landfill in the outskirts of Pinto near Madrid on July 14, ...


The value of the bitcoin in James Howells' lost hard drive.


Decluttering a work space is an annual rite of passage that in most cases, is not an act that one will regret for the rest of their life. However, for James Howells, a Welsh man living in the city of Newport, this accidental decision to get rid of a hard drive in 2013 has haunted him for close to a decade. It’s not the hard drive, necessarily, that Howell misses; it’s the the code allowing access to a crypto wallet that contains $184 million worth of bitcoin.

As reported by the BBC, the U.K. resident has now devised a multi-step plan to recover the hard drive, which is lost within a sea of compacted trash inside a landfill owned and operated by the Newport city council. A core part of the plan involves donating 10 percent of the recovered funds towards the creation of a community crypto hub, among other initiatives.

This isn’t the first time Howells’ story has been picked up either. The BBC highlighted his plight last year, revealing the man has been attempting to recover the lost device since the same year he mistakenly discarded it. The major roadblock to this rescue mission is the exorbitant costs needed to excavate the landfill, which is estimated to be in the millions, in addition to the subsequent “ecological risks” associated with this kind of labor.

Problem-solving evolved — Outside of the obvious, the reason news outlets continue to check in with Howells is because his pleas to the Newport council continue to change. At first, he offered 10 percent of the recovered funds in order to receive permission to search the site. This request was denied but Howells presented the same offer, following a massive spike in Bitcoin’s value back in 2017. Again, this offer was spurned.

In 2021, with digital assets once again spiking in value, following close to a two-year growth period, Howells upped the ante. Speaking with the BBC, he claimed that he was “willing to increase [his] offer to 25 percent... and [he’d] like to put that into a COVID relief fund for the citizens of Newport.”

The latest rendition of Howells’ plan is much more elaborate, and he has already secured funding (by signing ownership of some of his bitcoin stash) to put together an excavation team that is capable of digging up the landfill and to bring on an AI specialist that would be able to identify a hard drive within the “thousands of tons of compacted landfill.”

As mentioned above, Howells is dedicated to the idea of establishing a crypto hub in Newport, which would include a “community owned bitcoin mining facility,” £50 worth of bitcoin to all of the city’s residents, and the installation of crypto-payment terminals in every shop.

Still, no matter how detailed his proposal is, the city council claims that it cannot accept due to terms outlined in the site’s ownership permit.

The whole saga is reminiscent of Stefan Thomas, who made waves last year following an impossibly stressful dilemma. The programmer held the key to a crypto account containing hundreds of millions worth of bitcoin within an IronKey hard drive, but he forgot the password. After ten attempts at unlocking the device, it automatically wipes the stored information. At the time of the story, Thomas had gone 0/8 and was hoping to find a workaround.