An old urban legend lives on and recyclable cans go to waste to make charity "convenient."
In a recent feature on corporate marketing tie-ins, the Chronicle of Philanthropy mentioned a program in Chicago where a local metals firm recycles aluminum pop tabs (also known as pull tabs, pop tops, pull tops) and gives the proceeds to Ronald McDonald House (here, but requires subscription). It reminded me of an old urban legend about collecting pop tops to provide dialysis service, so I decided to investigate.
Sure enough, two urban legend sites, Snopes.Com and The Straight Dope bust the old kidney dialysis myth. However both agree that Ronald McDonald House has taken advantage of the old legend by starting a real program to collect aluminum tabs. They disagree on the year, but I'll believe Snopes.Com that it was 1987 because they provide a link to an archived site from the Ronald McDonald House.
What's the problem? The truth is, there is nothing special about the pop tab: the whole aluminum can is recyclable. It takes 1,267 pop tabs to make a pound, but just 32 cans. Various Ronald McDonald House sites provides different explanations for just collecting tops, but this one rings true:
Why collect only the tabs? Pop tabs are easy to collect and allow for any individual or community organization to participate. ... Tabs are also smaller and cleaner than aluminum cans enabling the Ronald McDonald House to handle the large volume they receive. We encourage you to recycle the entire aluminum can after you have saved the pull-tab for the Ronald McDonald House.
In other words, it's more convenient for McDonalds and the Ronald McDonald House. The logistics of collecting whole cans is too much for them.
Recycling cans is a worthwhile fundraiser and teaches kids about values, because metal dealers will pay cash for cans. Recycling pop tops, however, sends two wrong messages:
- That charity involves the least possible effort
- That people in need are helped by donation of practically worthless stuff.
Making an urban legend appear real isn't helping people who have real needs. Throwing away valuable cans to donate much less valuable pop tops is nothing but waste.