About two weeks ago, an older man who collected recyclable aluminum cans on a daily basis was physically assaulted in the early morning hours during one of his regular rounds.
To protect his privacy, and that of his family, I will not use his real name nor identify his place of residence. Someone hit him in the back of the head and was still listed as critical at an area hospital several days after the incident, according to a close friend of the family.
From what I was told, the man who is either in his late 60s or early 70s and was unemployed at the time of the attack, has been supplementing his income even when he had a job by collecting soda cans that he would later sell at a recycling facility. He would get up as early as 4 o’clock in the morning, ride his bicycle and do his rounds and then report to work at 7 a.m.
With the money he earned from collecting cans, he was able to pay his plane fare and visit family in the old country every year and still had a little bit of spare change for allowance. He was also happy to share with relatives and friends the good news that he was able to help a relative in the old country purchase a passenger tricycle that he needed to earn a living and feed his family.
But that’s not what caught my interest in the injured man’s plight. It was the comment made by someone with whom I shared the story that bothered me enough to do a little bit of research. Maybe the victim was targeted by other can collectors who did not want anyone messing up with their turf, I was told. After all, pull tabs from those soda cans are fetching quite a bit of money with a gallon of them fetching as much as, say, $600 if you sell them to the right people in San Francisco.
I’ve heard the same thing about the pull tabs from a number of people in the last few months but never gave them too much attention. But a weekly magazine I bought recently at the grocery store had an article about a woman artist who turned those pull tabs into works of art – bracelets and earrings, for example. Initially, she gave these as gifts to family and friends. Soon, others were clamoring for them that she decided to sell them. Her cottage business took off to the extent she was able to raise enough revenue to help finance her children’s college education. And all she needed to do was ask family and friends, and friends of friends, to save the pull tabs for her projects.
The magazine story did not say whether she bought those pull tabs from the people who gave them away, and for how much.
I would have dropped the story right there and then, but the incident involving the man who was beaten up while collecting cans for recycling prompted me to delve into the truth about pull tabs. If it’s true that these featherweight, very utilitarian soda-can appendages fetch that kind of money, that would be a believable motive for hurting an innocent and quiet grandfather who was simply trying to eke out a living, I surmised.
But was it?
My online research led me to www.snopes.com, a web site that is dedicated to digging into the reality roots of urban legends and rumors. Snopes’ investigation came up with a veritable amount of interesting information about pull tabs.
For one thing, it would take a million pull tabs to get a recycle value of $366. “And that’s before you factor in what it costs to collect, store, and transport them to a recycling center which will pay cash for them. When you consider the time and effort it takes to collect a million of anything, it’s a wonder anyone would go to all that trouble for a mere $366. Far better to ask everyone you know for a penny in place of each pull tab they would have given you – at least then when you were done collecting your million, you’d have $10,000 to donate to your charity,” the web site explains.
Then it adds, “To put this in even clearer perspective, 100 pull tabs have a scrap metal value of about 3-1/2 cents.”
Apparently, according to this web site, a number of people – and even non-profit organizations – have been duped into believing that there’s a pot of gold in pull tabs. Still, outside of the hoaxes, pull tabs are a viable way to help a good cause but not to the extent of a get-rich-quick scheme that some would lead others to believe.
For more on the truth about pull tabs from aluminum cans, their redemption value and stories involving individuals and organizations raising money by collecting these items, visit www.snopes.com/business/redeem/pulltabs.asp.