Why do soda can tabs have special monetary value?

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.

Soda Tab

Credit: Marcos André

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.

tab pile

Credit: tabtude1@gmail.com, a veteran tab collector whose website claims to provide “All You Need to Know About Pop Can Pull Tabs”

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.

20 Responses

  1. Genesis Perez July 1, 2017 / 3:28 am

    Are can tabs worth anything …be honest

  2. Joyce August 12, 2017 / 3:01 am

    The pop tops represent a token that can have value for what ever. .From you cleaning your room and picking up underwear and socks to help your family to point system of value for any number of programs.
    And there are some that pay for the token, whether you collect pennies, pencils or pop tops. I told my neighborhood kids they would get a penny for every black walnut picked up and put in the box. No monetary value to me other than picking them up. And after about $100 handed out in the fall, it was greatly appreciated by ME in not bending over, the young children raising themselves some spending money (parents approved) and the picked up walnuts when to the Ag service which planted them back out in the country side for groves..They did not pay for any of this, I did. And that became a donation to the Ag restoration service of our rural groves…..

  3. Kim November 11, 2017 / 2:49 pm

    I got in the habit from very young of pulling the tab off. We did a contest at camp. I end up with several hundred of them before I run into someone collecting. It’s almost an obsession for me. I literally can not throw away a can with the tab still on it. Haven’t tried to break the habit. Always figured someone is collecting somewhere.

    And now I see they are in demand for craft projects. Maybe they have some value after all.

    • Steven February 4, 2018 / 4:20 pm

      Hang on… it is 2018 (2017 when you posted) and you “throw away” cans?!?! That sounds like you think you’re some hero for taking off the least significant part of the FULLY RECYCLABLE can, and you then proceed to contribute to a huge global problem of waste?!? Why in the world – in this day and age – would you not recycle the can? In virtually every community in the Western world, you would get a deposit returned to you, but that’s a carrot meant to lead the ignorant to do the right thing despite themselves. You should be doing it because it is the right thing to do, deposit or no. I can’t believe that in 2017 there’s someone publicly posting that they toss recyclable materials in the trash.

      If you meant “throw in the recycling bin” instead of “throw away”, then I’m happy it is such a habit that you don’t even consider it anything special (as it should be). But just in case a lesson could be made out of a disgusting habit, I figured a post was appropriate.

    • asldkfsajflkj March 5, 2018 / 9:05 pm

      I dump my trash in the ocean

  4. Steve February 25, 2018 / 5:38 pm

    A current egregious example: a child in WI is trying to set the Guiness record for pop-top tabs (currently 2.7 million). They are looking for 1500 volunteers to count them and will pay Guiness $10,000 to certify the record. By your figures, the tabs are worth about $1000 (assuming she gets 3 million). So they are going to spend $10,000 and maybe 12,000 hours of volunteer labor (plus the cost for the school that they will open, staff, and use to assemble and count them all day on a Saturday) to donate $1000 to charity.
    On the other hand, they once did have actual monetary value. The rings from Coke product (not other brands) pull tabs in the 1970s were usable as dimes in some machines.

    • Ari March 12, 2018 / 9:00 pm

      I would rather use a scale and divide total weight of all tabs by average say 1000 tabs weight and multiply back by 1000 to get a very good approximation of total tabs in the pile. why waste 12,000 hrs of human time.
      big assumption here is that all tabs weigh same or they are homogenously distrubuted in the pile.

    • Julie March 17, 2018 / 9:47 pm

      I am familiar with the story you are referring to. The good news is, they are not having to pay that $10,000. That’s only if they wanted a representative from Guinness Book of World Records to be there. I think we can all agree that spending that much money to only donate a couple thousand dollars seems ridiculous. What is cool about this story, is that the child will be making the tab donation in her late brother’s honor. It’s a very cool story and it goes to show that even children can do a good deed. And I would guess that that this child will grow up to do other cool philanthropy-type projects.
      As for weighing them, because they are going for a Guinness record, Guinness requires that each tab be individually counted.

  5. ZZ March 3, 2018 / 3:46 pm

    How many pull tabs do you need to get $1,000?

    • Julie March 17, 2018 / 9:48 pm

      About 4 million tabs, estimate.

    • TERRY TABACCHI August 3, 2018 / 8:14 pm

      Wait did I read?

  6. E Hayes June 18, 2018 / 12:06 am

    I may not collect 350.00 worth, but then I have never counted them I just fill up large plastic bags. And I do recycle the rest of the can. So I am doing all I CAN to help the environment. I also take part in CITO which is Cache In Trash Out (look it up not explaining here) several times a year. I still feel I help others which is what we should be doing. Not whining and complaining. O wait I am not, I am just explaining.

  7. Bill August 17, 2018 / 5:31 pm

    In California we pay 5 cents “redemption value” on each can. I counted out 400 cans and recycled at $2.03 per pound. Grand total was just under $20. Almost got my redemption money back. Most places around here pay less than $1.60 per pound. Having tabs only could create a problem because there is no way to prove the California redemption was paid. Better off leaving them attached.

    • SirXena September 9, 2018 / 11:30 pm

      Wait what? You cash the cans in for your deposit back, no one cares if the tabs are still on them, so rip them off and save separately either for McDonald house or i think it’s shriners that is the other major child oriented charity. You could just save them for scrap metal as well. Why NOT pull them off?

      And to Steven near the top: no, not nearly every conceivable place does deposit and redemptions on cans. Open your eyes and read your cans. Now, how many states are there? Oh yeah, 50. It’s only about 20% that use the deposits as a means to try to force recycling, people don’t like throwing $ away. And though in NY for example the deposit is a nickel, there are frequently redemption centers that run 6 or 7 cent refunds. I’m not 109% sure how that works, but they still make money off counting and collecting the cans in the long run. There are a couple states that do a dime but it’s illegal to transport from other states to get the deposit back elsewhere. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but the higher refunds are too common for that to be the case. I think the redemption centers are subsidized by the state or the bottling plants themselves in addition to receiving the deposits they collect. Ever notice how they separate by manufacturer?
      My take is, why not add the tab recycling if it doesn’t matter. Where they are simply sold as scrap metal, removing the tabs makes the cans worth less, but not in deposit states, and there are definitely 2 worthy charities that do collect.

      I came here trying to figure out what charity my neighbor was donating them to. He recently passed and collected cans etc and donated the refunds to St. Judes, but he also collected tabs for somewhere else, I think a boy scout thing but could be wrong, every year not just once so idk. Maybe the boy scouts then gave them to McDonald house or shriners. Either way, pulling the tabs does more good than not. Simple as that.
      Oh and don’t forget bottle caps, same deal though most throw them away, they’re recyclable too or scrap metal.

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