In preschool, one of my classmates was collecting the pull tabs from soda cans for some sort of medical charity. I can remember thinking this was odd at the time – I couldn’t understand why what was essentially trash could have so much value. Yet, even today, people are constantly collecting soda can tabs “for charity” or “for medical research.” And I’m still just as confused… Why not collect the whole can so you have extra metal to recycle? What’s so special about soda can tabs that makes them precious nuggets of economic value? So, after years of wondering about these things, I decided to find out the answer to my questions.
The short answer is that there’s absolutely nothing about soda can tabs that makes them especially valuable. Read on to find out the long answer…
According to the Snopes article on the subject, the soda-can-tab myth has been circulating at least since the 1980’s. At one point, rumors stated that collecting a relatively small number of tabs could get dialysis patients free treatments. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Soda can tabs have absolutely no special monetary value. They can be sold for the recycling value of the aluminum they contain – just like a soda can or anything else made out of aluminum.
“OK,” you’re thinking. “They might not have any special monetary value… but at least people are collecting something that can be sold to benefit the charity, right?” Well, kind of. At market prices for scrap aluminum, 1 million soda can tabs are worth (wait for it), somewhere in the ballpark of $350. To put this in perspective, here’s a photo of 1 million soda can tabs collected at great effort by a group of boy scouts.
Imagine how much effort was required to collect those 1 million soda can tabs. Surely if that same amount of effort was expended, say, raking leaves or selling baked goods, the organization would have brought in thousands of dollars. In this case, they cashed in with a cool $350.
Of course, none of this has stopped organizations from continuing to collect soda can tabs. If the rumors exist, organizations might as well capitalize on them – and in some cases it may actually do some good. For example, with Ronald McDonald House, McDonald’s global reach and massive distribution system mean that, even by collecting just a few tabs in each city, they can end up with a pretty good pile of aluminum to trade in for cash. And, as the organization states on the page about the drives, storing the tabs is easier and more hygienic than collecting actual soda cans.
So, what’s the moral of this story? Well, soda can tabs don’t have any special value – but they do have some value. If you really want to collect the tabs, it’s not going to hurt anything. But if you really want to raise some money for a local charity, you’d be much better off organizing an aluminum can drive – or doing a fundraiser of practically any other type.