Keeping tabs on life

Matt Kelly

In grade school you would say the alphabet as you pulled the tab off the soda can to see who you supposedly had a crush on. Now, you don’t care which letter you land on, because that tab is the only thing standing between you and that beer. But there are people who do care about this tiny piece of aluminum. For some individuals, that tiny tab equates to moments of life.

Individuals suffering from kidney disease can exchange these pull-tabs for minutes on a dialysis machine. The Dialysis is very expensive but extremely important for people with kidney failure.

Dialysis is a treatment that takes over some of the functions of healthy kidneys. It is needed when your own kidneys can no longer take care of your body’s needs. Dialysis is needed when you develop end-stage kidney failure—usually by the time you lose about 85 to 90 percent of your kidney function

Dialysis machines help removes waste, salt and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body and keep a safe level of certain chemicals in the blood, such as potassium, sodium and bicarbonate. They also helps to control blood pressure.

Diseases of the kidney are a major cause of death in the U. S. The National Kidney Foundation is the primary health organization fighting this illness.

The belief that pull-tabs actually can be traded for money has caused controversy of the years.

Some people said that it was pure folklore, that the tabs redeemed, and that good-hearted people saving them were left disappointed when they discovered the truth. In fact, in the spring of 1997 a community in Canada believed that if they could save up eight pull-tabs, they could buy a crippled child a much-needed wheelchair.

After collecting a million, the group realized that they did not even have a buyer for the metal. Luckily this story ended happily, when the Royal Canadian Legion arranged to get all the tabs to the recycling center and the little girl got her wheelchair from a manufacturer who heard about the story.

But others have not been so lucky. Charity groups and the aluminum industry continue fighting over the misconceptions. “People will come up here and just swear to you that these tabs can get an hour for somebody on a (dialysis) machine, and nothing you tell them will convince them that it’s not so,” says O’Neil Short, president of Houston’s Micon Recycling.

“Some of them come with gallon containers wanting $75 a gallon, and when we explain it’s not worth $75, they pull out of the driveway mad.” Some companies are trying to change that.

Reynolds Aluminum Recycling Company (RARCO) and the National Kidney Fountain (NKF) affiliates and chapters have initiated this “Keep Tabs on Your Cans” turnaround drive.

Although NKF does not run a program, (a patient’s Medicare pays for most of the treatment) individuals who recycle aluminum through Reynolds can donate the proceeds to NKF.

The major player in helping to change the urban myth around the tabs on cans is McDonald’s.

When the hamburger chain realized how determined people were to collect pull-tabs for charity they decided to lend a hand. In 1987, McDonald’s instituted their “Pop Tab Collection” programs as a response to what they termed, “pull-tab mania.”

This program started with the Minneapolis Ronald McDonald House and has raised over $750,000 nationally since its inception. Over 26 Ronald McDonald Houses across the country save pop tabs as a fundraising project.

The funds collected from this program help Ronald McDonald House provide a home away from home for families with children who are being treated in an area hospital.

Why pop tabs and not the whole can? Pop tabs are a higher quality aluminum and are more valuable by weight. Because they are smaller and cleaner, they’re easier to store and don’t attract bugs.

Tabs dropped off at the fast food place were taken to local recycling companies and the money was given to Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the country.

Since the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Pennsylvania began collecting beverage tabs in 1996, they have raised $36,251, according to Linda Bugden, the financial coordinator for the organization.

In 2001, the organization collected $10,599 worth of tabs, not including two tons of tabs picked up by the recycler near the end of the year. The RMH wants to raise awareness about their mission. Contact them to get involved.

While pull-tabs don’t gross millions of dollars, finding the right program can offer sick individuals some precious moments of life.

So the next time you crack open a can, think about the tab. It may be a tiny piece of aluminum to you, but saving it could create a fund to help save a life!