Circulating messages request people to save all types of bottle caps because the caps can be exchanged for free cancer treatment for children.
The claims in the message are untrue. Bottle caps cannot be exchanged for free chemotherapy sessions or any other form of cancer treatment. The supposed charity drive is a hoax that began in the United States in 2008. Reposting this false and misleading information will do nothing whatsoever to help children with cancer.
According to various messages that are currently circulating via social media websites and email, you can help sick children receive free cancer treatment simply by collecting your plastic bottle caps. The messages claim that the collected caps can be exchanged for various cancer treatment options. Some versions claim that a certain number of caps – specified cap numbers vary widely from as low as 100 to 1500 or even 10000 or more – will earn the cancer suffering child one hour of free chemotherapy. Other versions simply claim that an unspecified number of caps can be swapped for free cancer medicine. The messages suggest that plastic caps from virtually any sort of container can be collected and exchanged for treatment.
Unfortunately, the claims in the message are untrue. Random collections of plastic bottle caps certainly will not be exchanged for chemotherapy or any other kind of cancer treatment. The messages are derived from a widespread hoax that swept across the United States back in 2008. It remains unclear who actually created the hoax. But, once launched, the campaign rapidly took on a life of its own with many organizations, including stores, churches and schools setting up collection bins and asking people to start collecting caps. The program was even falsely reported as real by some media outlets. With many diverse groups and individuals involved in cap collection activities, the fact that there was no specified procedure for actually exchanging the caps for treatment was somehow overlooked in the general confusion. Various hospitals were suggested as the facilities supposedly providing the free treatments. However, it later became clear that none of these hospitals had ever agreed to participate in such a charity campaign. The American Cancer Society was also repeatedly named as a supposed sponsor of the caps campaign. However, after conducting a thorough investigation, the American Cancer Society dismissed the supposed bottle cap drive as nothing more than a hoax, noting on its website:
After extensive research, the American Cancer Society has concluded that the Plastic Bottle Caps for Chemo program is a hoax. The origin of the hoax remains unclear, but it is similar to other “cash for trash” hoaxes that have circulated worldwide for years.
And an August 2008 article in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel reports:
The exchange of large amounts of plastic bottle caps to offset treatment costs for cancer patients is a hoax, according to Amy Berner, communications director for the West Virginia American Cancer Society.
Berner has been fielding calls all summer from volunteers inquiring about the mythical program.
“When we first heard it, we were skeptical,” she said. “We tried to find out as much as possible and we could not find anything.”
Berner said it sounded crazy, but she checked; local charities, hospitals, bottling companies, the Internet. Every lead came up empty.
“We found that churches were collecting caps for schools that were collecting for churches. We exhausted every possible place we could. We came to the conclusion it was a hoax.”
Vast numbers of caps with virtually no intrinsic value were ultimately collected. Beauty products company Aveda attempted to derive some good out of the hoax by launching a cap recycling campaign via US schools. The campaign was successful, but soon reached capacity for school enrollments due to “the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reaction to the Aveda Cap Collection Program across the country”.
Some commentators have suggested that a program could be set up by which proceeds from recycled plastic caps could be donated to cancer charities, but it is unclear if such a venture would be economically viable.
Several years on, the hoax continues to circulate, duping many a kind-hearted person into pointlessly collecting plastic caps. The hoax has even spawned several utterly useless Facebook groups dedicated to cap collection.
Of course, from time to time companies do organize cap return programs designed to support various charities or schools. However, these programs are specific to one product or company, are time-limited, and are intended as promotional vehicles for the participating company. None of these cap campaigns has ever offered free chemotherapy sessions or cancer medicine as “rewards” for cap collections.
People participate in such campaigns because they genuinely believe that, by doing so, they are helping those in need. But, sadly, collecting plastic bottle caps will do nothing whatsoever to help fund cancer treatment for sick children.