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.

36 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

    • Have January 4, 2019 / 9:02 pm

      There are only about 10 states, if my memory is correct, that pay a return deposit for cans, so your statement of “virtually every community” is extremely exaggerated

    • Heymoe2001 March 24, 2019 / 4:45 am

      So you toss the can, which is worth about a penny, to save the top which is worth .00003 of a penny. Oooookaaaayyyy
      That makes sense.
      For those million tabs the boy scouts collected, they could have made $10,000 if they’d recycled the whole cans! But, yeah, $350 was super great.

    • Connie Kingrey June 30, 2019 / 2:02 pm

      Oregon now has a higher deposit of 10 cents per can (as well as bottles-glass and plastic.) More people are returning containers. You can set up your return to auto-credit your grocery store card and if you do this, all you have to do is put them in a provided “Bottle Drop” bag and “Bottle Drop” will do the counting. “Bottle Drop” is a container recycling center with many locations around town. So….if you pull the tabs off and just make a habit of doing this, you can get $ from the cans (that will be 10 cents with or without the tabs) as well as have the tabs donated to a program collecting them. It’s a win/win.

  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.

    • Honest1inVA January 13, 2020 / 4:13 pm

      Everyone arguing on this forum about recycling needs to understand that, if we simply went back to putting our beverages in glass bottles, and Recycling them like we used to do, we would not have nearly as much trash anywhere especially in the ocean. Plastics And aluminum canswere designed for one purpose; to save corporations money on packaging. Both of the aforementioned are detrimental to our health as they are made with and or lined with chemicals that leach into our drinks and or food especially when exposed to heat. Glass does not do this which is probably why people were much healthier years ago than they are today. You never heard of so many ailments afflicting so many people as you have in the last 15 to 20 years. You have to ask yourself how the hellPeople survived years ago before the advent of the so-called modern technology and modern medicine. Their food was not genetically modified, they did not have a lot of artificial colors and flavors or preservatives, they did not eat out of aluminum and plastic or Prepackaged/boxed dinners. Most people ate the food that they grew in their own gardens from heirloom seeds as well as meat and fish from local sources without added hormones and growth acceleratorssOr antibiotics. My great aunts lived to be 105 and 102 respectively and grew up eating Kielbasa and other meats as well as cooking with lard and real butter and eating lots of eggs every day. Neither one of them was ever ill a day in their lives. One of my aunts was 105 and fell in the yard chasing the dog with a broom and broke her hip. She developed an infection at the hospital and that is what killed her. The otherSimply died of old age after her husband passed. Moral of the story is, Everyone wants convenience , However, there is a price to be paid for this. If people simply went back to growing and canning a lot of their own food, And living simpler lives, the world would be in much better shape. Man really is destroying himself. Everyone complains but how many people are honestly willing to give up all of their so called modern technology and convenience to save their own lives? Unfortunately, not many. The big corporations and government officials banking billions of dollars a day at the expense of the lives of the general public are certainly not willing to compromise. If people simply stopped buying things that they truly don’t need that would be a good start.

  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.

  8. Your delusional January 20, 2019 / 3:43 pm

    https://thewalrus.ca/why-recycling-doesnt-work/ The crazy person that freaked about not recycling should do some actual research. It’s not as great of a thing as you think. Don’t just read this article, read several.
    You sound delusional

    • No, you're delusional October 27, 2019 / 7:51 pm

      The fact that you don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” is ironic considering you seem to think you can condescend to another because of superior intellect.

  9. Hector April 5, 2019 / 9:45 pm

    Yall play too damn much lol ?

  10. Sally Gochenour July 28, 2019 / 7:29 am

    My dad’s been collecting pop tabs for years. He started doing it when his great grand daughters were collecting for their school: He was called the “Million Man”. He has just done it for years. He has sold some to people that needed some for projects. He had a purse made out of tabs ( we call them clippies!) He even keeps all colored tabs to. He says that there might be someone out there that might need a certain color!? My dad is retired and is 77 years young. It does keep my dad busy..

    • Kurt Owens September 11, 2019 / 12:56 pm

      That’s awesome! Out of all the comments, loved this one the most?

  11. Eric Kissinger September 22, 2019 / 3:27 pm

    The Shriners in southeastern Pennsylvania collect tabs to raise money for the Shriners Childrens Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. I am a Shriner and a volunteer who takes children in need of medical treatment for various major health problems, Burns, birth defects, etc. to and from the hospital at no cost to them. Wonderful things happen at Shriners hospitals. People send tabs to the hospital in Philly from all over. I and others collect them, take them home, sort, and then when we have a large quantity we take to the scrap center. We have many 55 gallon plastic drums of them when we do this. I say we sort them,Why? Because not every tab is aluminum. We get a large amount of metal cat food tabs, oil can tabs that are metal. The scrap yard is very particular that there is only aluminum in our barrels. It takes hours to use a magnet to clean out the metal tabs. But also people throw change, tokens, paper clips, safety pins, nuts, screws and what not in with the tabs.

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  14. Stay in your lane October 27, 2019 / 7:59 pm

    Daynebatten, you clearly have a fundamental misunderstanding of the tab collecting effort, and your advice is unfortunately misguided. The institutions that use this method clearly have their reasons and the experience to back that decision. The tab collection is a minimal effort requiring little time and aggregates to significant impact that would not otherwise be realized. The efficiency and density of the pop tab collection, among other stated reasons, relative to the volume makes a better choice than whole can collection.

  15. Otis November 2, 2019 / 2:06 am

    I have friends who are manic about collecting tabs but toss all their cans in the regular garbage. They also love Donald Trump so I guess stupid is as stupid does.

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