The Worst Urban Legend – Soda Can Tabs

I saw it again the other day, and it made me so sad. A group was collecting soda can tabs because they honestly and genuinely and truly believed that this would help someone. I don’t know if they thought it would get someone time on a kidney dialysis machine, or defray the cost of chemotherapy or provide some desperately needed medical prosthetic, but the fact is they are suffering from a delusion.

The soda can tab myth is one of the most heartbreakingly persistent urban legends out there. It preys on people’s natural instinct to want to help those in need, and it causes a great deal of effort for very little return. People are under the illusion that the aluminum in can tabs is somehow “more pure” than that of the rest of the can. Not. It’s also an alloy. And since no organization, repeat, NO ORGANIZATION will give you more than the normal recycle value for your aluminum, you’d be much better off collecting the entire can rather than just the tab. Because as this article in will tell you, 100 pull tabs will get you approximately 3 ½ cents. It would be even better to get people do donate a penny instead of a pull tab. That way you’d at least get a dollar.

The reason these types of collections make me so despondent is that people want to believe in them so desperately that when you try to disabuse them of this misinformation, they usually refuse to hear you. They get very emotional about it. They continue their collection, using up time and effort, and then only realize the truth when it’s too late. All that energy and good intention could have been directed elsewhere, and all they are left with is a great deal of embarrassment.

If you are hellbent on continuing with your soda can tab campaign, there’s not much I can do to stop you. So I simply ask that before you go through all the hassle, you get a confirmation, in writing, directly from the source of your expected windfall. And, uh… good luck with that.


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Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

15 thoughts on “The Worst Urban Legend – Soda Can Tabs”

  1. You’re technically right, but I think most charities already know that. On a Ronald McDonald House Charities website, it says, “Although the whole aluminum can is valuable, the tab is cleaner and smaller, making it easier to collect in large quantities than whole cans.” If enough people are involved, over time, even pop tabs can add up to thousands of dollars, and sometimes people are more willing to collect their pop tabs than donate money.

  2. While I don’t collect them for charity, I do throw them in a quart bottle. I understand that some people use them for craft projects but I’m not into that. Good info in your post – glad to know I didn’t save them for charity – I’d have been disappointed.

  3. you’re missing a large bit of context here: the tabs arent supposed to have worth in themselves, but theyre more of a token of affection. can tabs are supposed to be a sign of good will, that you wish good things upon whoever you give the tab to.

    1. Once again, “People are under the illusion that the aluminum in can tabs is somehow “more pure” than that of the rest of the can. Not. It’s also an alloy… you’d be much better off collecting the entire can rather than just the tab.”

    2. And, by the way, the very LAST thing you want your prosthetics made from is a weak metal like aluminum. And how many thousands of tabs would you need to make one flimsy prosthetic? And why not use entire cans for your flimsy prosthetic?

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