Pull tabs on McCourtesy page
Five plastic garbage bags, 10 cents each: $0.50; 350 pounds of pull-tabs, scrap metal value $0.13; one photo op with a little girl on crutches, Pricele$$!

Every once in a while I run into a friend (not always the same one, multiple friends) who insist that everyone should save the little pull-tabs off the top of soda-pop cans.

A few years ago, it was supposed to help fund kidney-dialysis charities. It turned out to be an urban legend.

Later, it was Ronald-McDonald House, which is apparently part true. It seems that RMDH capitalized on the urban legend to use it as an activity. The value of the tabs, however, is so small, that the programs value is mostly an activity promoting the charity itself.

It’s easy to find all sorts of information about this on the internet. The most obvious and reliable, in my opinion is Snopes.com, which usually has the straight dope on any of these questionable rumours. Another good article was Associated Content, which I know less about, but had actually checked it out with aluminum recyclers to verify it’s value.

Charity watchdog, Where Most Needed also chimes in with their site.

The only verifiable site supporting pull-tab collection was the McDonalds-sponsored Courtesy Corporation which clearly is collecting pull-tabs, despite any tangible value to them.

The site says:

Some people ask, “Why pop tabs? Why not the whole can?” The answer is that pop tabs are higher quality aluminum and are more valuable by weight. And because they are smaller and cleaner than the whole can, they’re easier to store.

This is disputed in the previous links I posted:

The truth is that the pull tabs are not “Pure” aluminum. They are an alloy, as is the rest of the can, though the alloy is slightly different. Even so, the price that is paid for the pull tabs by aluminum collection and recycling companies is exactly the same as the price paid for the whole can. Recently that price has been between 50 and 75 cents per pound.


Since the annual costs of dialysis are currently running between $60,000 and $100,000, we can estimate that it will take about 20,000,000,000 pull-tabs to cover the costs for any one patient in need of dialysis.

That’s 20 Billion.

Another site, Straight Dope tells us:

So-called redemption rumors have been floating around at least since the 1950s and probably earlier. Before kidney dialysis came along you typically were told to save cigarette packs to buy somebody time on an iron lung–one of your classic sick bargains.


Urban legends expert Jan Brunvand reports that in 1989 a Minneapolis VFW post organized a pull tab collection drive for the local Ronald McDonald House. When Brunvand asked the organizers why they didn’t tell people to save whole cans, they lamely replied that there were “hygiene problems” and that people liked mailing in the tabs, even though the postage often exceeded the value of the aluminum.

What is being accomplished by collecting these nearly-worthless tidbits of metal?

Environmentalism? No, recycling the whole can would be more productive towards that.

Fundraising? It’s pretty obvious that the value of the scrap metal in the tabs is nearly nothing and far less than that of the whole can.

Education about charitable causes, or community service? How does making a token effort of collecting the tabs alone help? Are we teaching our kids that charity extends only as far as is convenient? That it doesn’t include getting our hands dirty and rinsing out a few cans? That it’s the thought that matters and it’s okay to waste time on a token effort, as long as we mean well? Making a difference isn’t always convenient or easy. Sometimes it involves dealing with issues that aren’t pleasant. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to accomplish only a little, but we should put our effort where it makes the most sense, not in some feel-good gesture.

Awareness for the charity involved? Maybe. But wouldn’t a tractor-trailer full of cans be more impressive than a garbage bag full of tabs? Wouldn’t a mountain of recyclable aluminum be more of a photo op than a little pile of pull-tabs? The number on the check received for the scrap metal would be significantly larger as well. And if you’re going to enlist our kids, friends, neighbors and us in support of your charity, at least let us do something meaningful and productive. Don’t exploit them in a boondoggle that produces nothing more than a publicity stunt.

Saving pull-tabs for charity is not real. It’s not a viable fundraiser, even when an actual group exploits the urban myth to their own ends. If you really want to help a charity through recycling pop cans, recycle the WHOLE can. If you live in a state with deposits, turn in the can and give the deposit to the charity. That will raise far more money and you can choose what group you want to give it to.

Posted in News, Rants
8 comments on “Pull-tabs
  1. Siena Malcolm says:

    This Whole Thing just makes me mad because i know that pulling tabs is a real charity and the fact that there is so many websites out there saying that it’s all false is stupid. The Ronald McDonald NC Donald Foundation accepts Tabs and in turn it goes towards family to allow them a place to stay while their child is in the hospital. People might say that it isn’t worth it, but think about your own child being in the hospital fighting for their lives the last thing you want to think about is not having the money to sit my their sides while they fight for their lives! If that isn’t a good enough reason then you are just cold hearted!

  2. Pulling tabs is not a charity at all, it is an activity. The question is, are the benefits it achieves worth anything to the charity they claim it serves? Or would your time be spent more wisely another way? Are your efforts really benefiting the charity, or being used as a publicity stunt for the corporate sponsor?

    What is false is that the value of the material comes from the tabs. The money is coming from McDonalds and their advertising budget. The charity may be real, and if McDonalds, or anyone else, wants to contribute money to a charity, why not just do it?

    I object to using people who want to contribute something to our society to do busy work. We might as well have them dig holes and fill them up again, like Army boot camp. Would that be okay, if it’s for charity? If some corporation pledges money for each hole?

    If you want volunteers to raise money for a charity, give them a real and meaningful way to do it. Don’t turn it into an exercise in a meaningless gesture that only results in a publicity event for the company.

    If you had read this blog at all, you’d know that I have had kids in the hospital. One of my sons underwent a lung transplant a year ago. A pile of pull tabs wouldn’t have paid for the first five minutes in the hospital. I’m all for supporting research and donating to charity, but I object to people being treated like morons and exploited by some corporate image-maker to enhance their brand in the name of a charity. That’s cold-hearted.

    And people who just blindly follow along with these schemes without questioning their value and real purpose are just enabling the corporate hacks who use the charitable cause for their own ends.

  3. gayle says:

    Al, I am still amazed at people in my circle of people who are convinced that the Kidney foundation benefits from this. Even when they learn about our history, they are so strong in their desire to “help the easy way” they refuse to believe they could be mistaken.
    Treating people like morons is the American-corporate way is it not? (Wal-mart, Nike, McDonald’s)

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