A man in Wales is kicking himself after accidentally tossing a hard drive full of Bitcoins valued at over $100 million.
James Howell is an IT worker in Newport, Wales. In 2013 he was cleaning his apartment when he accidentally tossed a hard drive that he’d used to mine 7500 Bitcoins. Back then, the Bitcoins would have been worth a few hundred thousand dollars (still no small change), but since then the price of a Bitcoin has skyrocketed over 1000 percent.
Those same 7500 Bitcoins are worth over $100 million in today’s money.
At a few hundred thousand, the loss of Howell’s hard drive is a tragedy, but he’d have a hard time making a business case to the town of Newport to go digging around in a landfill. On the other hand, $100 million is worth disrupting the landfill’s day to day with a team of engineers searching for a golden hard drive.
Trouble is, trying to find a single hard drive in a garbage dump is exactly like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Digging through a landfill is dangerous work, as Howell explains to the Telegraph: "A modern landfill is a complex engineering project and digging one up brings up all sorts of environmental issues such as dangerous gases and potential landfill fires. It’s a big, expensive and risky project."
The expense of paying for a team of experts to go digging around a landfill is minor when compared with the $100 million prize. But even if they were to start digging, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to find the hard drive. And even if they did, there’s no guarantee the hard drive will be in good enough condition to extract the data they need.
Every Bitcoin comes with a public address and a private key. The public address is used to keep track of that Bitcoin on the public ledger, which gives Bitcoin its value. To use a Bitcoin to make purchases you need the private key, however, which is what Howell stored on his hard drive.
Bitcoin’s value has been pretty volatile since its creation in the late 2000s. But in 2017, the price shot up to well over $10,000 per coin. A few hundred Bitcoins purchased at inception would be worth a fortune today.