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Published:October 27th, 2006 07:01 EST
What's Up with Collecting Soda Tabs?

What's Up with Collecting Soda Tabs?

By Kate Bennett

Whether it was through an elementary school fundraiser, a friend, or just from passing by a collection bin, almost everyone knows about soda tab collections.  Said to be able to be exchangeable for kidney dialysis, cancer treatments, or a wheelchair en masse, soda tabs are collected by students, children, and adults around the world in attempt to philanthropically recycle. 

But are the claims really true? 

The simple answer is a simple no.  No they cannot get you free dialysis, cancer treatments, or be melted down to make a wheelchair. 

Oddly enough, almost all of the fundraising programs are unreal.  Although no one knows exactly when and where the rumor began, the approximate date can be narrowed down to between 1962 and 1985.

Why?  For starters, the pop tab, as many call it, wasn`t invented until 1962, when Ermal Fraze of Kettering, Ohio, did just that. 

Only 23 years later, The Ronald McDonald House of Minneapolis, Minnesota was inspired by the rumor to actually create a tab collecting program.  Now known as the Pop Tab Collection Recycling Program, it has helped raise over $4 million in funds for all participating U.S. houses.   

Regardless of RMH collections, the rumor has cost countless numbers of people time and energy, and caused a lot of caring people much heartache. 

There`s nothing special about soda tabs that makes them particularly valuable.  They`re made from the exact same aluminum ore as the rest of the can, although rumor also has it that they have higher aluminum content ".  That rumor even has Minneapolis` Ronald McDonald House tripped up.  

  We collect them because they`re the most valuable part of the can, " said Tony, a representative from Minneapolis` RMH.  Yea, they contain the purest aluminum. " 

Despite the claim, the tabs are no more valuable than any other similarly sized piece of aluminum.  In fact, a million pull tabs, equal to 15.78 miles when laid tip-to-tip, have a recycle value of just about $300 (snopes).   

Other RMHs claim they collect only tabs for storage and cleanliness reasons.  Cans would take up a heck of a lot more space.  Either way, their collections, which come in via donation and are often in a small, cute lunch tin-like cardboard box, bring them about $8,000 per year. 

According to PepsiCo, because they have yet to find a credible program, they do not endorse any tab collection programs. 

We used to get a lot of calls about tab collection, " one representative said, maybe even 10 or 20 a day.  But we haven`t had any recently.  The thing seems to have died down on its own. "

Delaware`s recycling giant Terrapin Recycling, which has centers located throughout the state, said they currently pay 60 cents per pound of tabs.  That means that each individual tab has a value of 0.047 cents. 

Were you to collect peoples` spare change, say even just pennies, you`d make 21 times as much money per penny as you would collecting soda tabs.  So instead of $300 for one million tabs, you could have $10,000. 

The disappointment of the soda tab rumor leaves those in search of easy philanthropic projects with two options: collect entire soda cans, or collect spare change, like pennies.

Although whole cans take up a considerable amount of space, they`re worth a considerably larger amount of money.  Not to mention the fact that they benefit the environment.   

Americans throw out enough aluminum every three months to rebuild the country`s entire commercial air fleet.  And every aluminum can that is laid to rest in a land fill will take about 500 years to completely degrade.   

Think about that the next time you go to toss a can of coke in the garbage. 

Not persuaded?  Consider then the fact that it takes 95 percent less energy to make a soda can from recycled aluminum than from aluminum ore.   


It also prevents smelting, an extremely energy intensive process used in the making of aluminum sheets (which then form cans).  The amount of energy used to make one smelted aluminum soda can is actually equal to a ¼ can of gasoline.  Smelting also causes the release of perflourocarbons " relatives of our dear friend`s chlorofluorocarbons " which happen to be one of the most harmful greenhouse gases in existence.   

Recycling your soda cans also prevents bauxite (aluminum ore) mining, which destroys more land than any other type of ore mining.  So while your coke can is lying buried for 500 long years beneath the landfill soil, even more land is being destroyed to make a new one that will only harm the earth.  Especially if it is later thrown away.

So for those in search of good deed collection projects, soda cans seem like a smart alternative.  Rather than collecting soda tabs, it`s far more beneficial for both the earth and charitable causes to collect entire soda cans.  Crushed, they still take up more space than the tabs, but they also yield an undeniably greater good.