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Pull-tabs escaping a mythical distortion

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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000

I have spent a large portion of my career bedeviled by the aluminum pull-tab story, and am comforted, somewhat, to have positive news to report on the subject.

Urban Myths have always been a favorite subject of mine. You know the ones: Farmer stuck to painted outhouse seat; Concrete truck driver fills wife's lover's car with concrete; Hook from deranged amputee left hanging on car door . . . you know those?

And there are the modern, equally bogus versions: Guy who gets shot in groin because he used .22 shell for fuse in his car; AIDS infected needles left in telephone change slots or theater seats. Not to mention my most recent favorite, the guy who gets picked up by a woman in a hotel bar and, after having been slipped a Mickey, wakes up in a bathtub full of ice with a cell phone and a note telling him to call 911 because his kidneys have been stolen for sale to organ pirates.

And the charitable something-for-nothing category has always included, basically, tea-bag tabs, cigarette packages and aluminum pull-tabs.

You still get absolutely nothing for tea bag-tabs and cigarette packages. That package or tab you were going to throw away anyhow will not buy dialysis time for a child, a bone-marrow transplant for a cancer victim or anything else.

But there is some credibility to the aluminum pull-tabs.

More than one bona fide charity is seeking the tabs, but the one that came to my attention last week was the Ronald McDonald House for whom the Knights of Columbus and St. Benedict's Church in Homosassa and the Weeki Wachee Metal Detector Club are collectingthem.

The tabs do not go for any specific purpose, like buying wheelchairs or dialysis, but go to the Ronald McDonald House's general fund to help provide a place for the families of sick children to be near them while they are hospitalized.

And there is no magical significance to the pull-tabs other than their reclaimable value as scrap aluminum, which is about 40 cents per pound these days.

Wouldn't it be better then, to collect the whole can instead of just the small metal pop-top?

In a more perfect world, it probably would. But the logistics of aluminum can recycling can get pretty complicated. You can save a week's worth of pull-tabs in your pocket, (okay, for some of my beer-drinking friends, both pockets and a small suitcase or two) but cans are another matter. They are bulky, fill your car with dribblings of whatever they held and have to be transported with some difficulty to where they are accepted.

I even had a friend once, a former sponge diver who bought a bar in Citrus County because it was safer than diving, who was injured in a recycling accident when a massive chunk of compressed aluminum cans was dropped on his head and broke his neck.

But pull-tabs are easily collected and transported, and in a few months coming from a variety of sources, can add up.

"We just took in 190 pounds," said Shirley Bentley, office assistant at Ronald McDonald House, "and we have had up to 300 pounds in a two- or three-month period."

It was a natural for the metal detector club, with 40-odd members, who enjoy looking for metallic things and for whom beaches are a prime hunting grounds.

I heard about their efforts from a co-worker, who is a member.

Frankly, anybody who keeps me from stepping on pop-tops or anything else when I'm at the beach has a place on my friends list.

And the club's members also have placed collection receptacles in several different spots and take their contents, by the gallon to the K of C, which then takes them to Ronald McDonald House.

So saving tabs is good.

But you're still more likely to lose your wallet than your kidneys to a hooker you meet in a hotel bar.

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