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.

4 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.

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