Recycling Aluminum Tabs Vs. Cans

Pull Rings

Rich Walker/iStock/Getty Images

A quick Internet search brings up numerous sites and articles about recycling the tabs on aluminum cans. Depending on what you read or who you believe, the tabs are more beneficial to recycle than the can. In a nutshell, they’re exactly the same when it comes to recycling. Both are equally valuable.

It’s All Aluminum

There are rumors that the pull tabs on cans are the only part of the can made from pure aluminum. According to Alcoa, aluminum from recycled cans, tabs included, is identical to aluminum smelted from virgin ore. The can itself is every bit as valuable and recyclable as the tab. You should also keep in mind that the whole can far outweighs the tab. One pound of aluminum equals about 34 empty cans or 1,500 pull tabs.


Many national and local charities opt to collect only aluminum tabs. Reasons for collecting only tabs include less storage space and no beverage residue mess to clean up. For many people, especially children, it’s fun to see the number of tabs piling up in the collection container like pennies in a piggy bank. If you choose to donate aluminum tabs to a charity, don’t forget to recycle the rest of the can as well. If you recycle for cash, you can also choose to donate what you’re paid for recycling your aluminum cans.

How Aluminum is Recycled

Aluminum is one of the easiest products to recycle. Many communities provide curbside pickup for recycled materials including aluminum cans, glass, plastic and paper. If your community does not offer pickup, check for a drop-off facility near you. Websites such as provide quick searches for drop-off locations. Aluminum cans are separated from other recyclables at a materials recovery facility where they are condensed into bricks or larger bales. At the aluminum plants, the cans are burned to remove outside paint, shredded to potato chip-sized pieces and melted.

Molten aluminum is poured into 25-foot long ingots that weigh over fifteen tons, according to Earth911. After the ingots are rolled and reduced to the desired thickness, the aluminum product is coiled and sent to can manufacturers. An aluminum can goes from your recycling bin to the store shelf as a new container in about 60 days.


Aluminum tabs and cans are recycled for the same price. In the summer of 2010, recycled aluminum prices averaged $.90 to $.98 per pound. So for recycling either 34 cans or about 1,500 tabs, you’ll get about $1.00. Rates for recycled aluminum vary widely, so you should not always expect those rates. You can search the Internet or your local phone directory for scrap dealers who will pay you cash for recycled aluminum.


Aluminum can be recycled endlessly. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, making new aluminum cans from recycled ones saves 92 percent of the energy required when making cans from bauxite ore. In addition to saving energy, recycling aluminum cans cuts down on the waste stream. The EPA estimates that 3.4 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2008 was made up of aluminum cans. The aluminum industry pays out approximately $800 million annually for recycled products.