Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Stepped on a Pop Top!

March 17th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Abu Dhabi

Tore up my flip-flop …

A couple of lines from “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffet … and something I think of every day when I walk outside here in Abu Dhabi.

Some of you may be too young even to know what a pop top is. If you came to the United Arab Emirates, however, you would find out in a hurry, because they are … everywhere.

What is a pop top?

Let’s go back in soft-drink history. When I was a child, you drank them out of returnable bottles … or, if you bought them by the can, you got at them with a can opener. Yes. You hooked a little lip of the device under the rim of the drink,  and pushed the sharp end forward … and it punched a triangular hole in the can. Then you punched a hole on the other side of the can, too, to vent the thing …

Then came a marvelous invention. The pop top. It came along with the aluminum can. And I’m going to say it was in the 1960s. I know it was around by the end of that decade because a guy who went to high school with me wore a pop top as a sort of ring.

Anyway. The pop top made the can opener irrelevant. It was a ring of metal near the center of the top of an aluminum soda can … and the consumer wedged the tip of his finger beneath it and popped it up. It pivoted, see? And the seal would be broken. Psshhhh.

But you weren’t done yet. Not with a tiny hole in the middle of one end of the can.

The next part of the pop top was peeling it off. See, the ring was connected to a tongue of aluminum that tore loose as you pulled the pop top toward the edge of the can. And then the ring and the tongue tail of it … came off the can entirely,  and you could drink the soda. No problem.

Wait. There was one problem.

The pop top.

What to do with it. You had a can of Coke in your hand, but you had a pop top and the tongue of aluminum (invariably curled slightly, from being peeled off the can) … in your hand.

And what a lot of people did was just drop the pop top. Wherever they happened to be. Out the window of their car, on the ground in a parking lot. In the grass at a park or in the sand at the beach.

And, being metal, they never went away. They just sat there and maybe got buried and maybe not, and if you were walking you could step on one, as Buffet did in Margaritaville, and “Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home.” Some people seemed to think that animals attempted to eat them, and hurt themselves. Maybe so.

So, they were banned in the U.S. Maybe late 1970s? Early on in the environmental movement. Replaced by the current system, which operates in much the same way but leaves the ring on the can. No loose metal.

However, the pop top is still legal, in much of the world. Including here in the UAE. The soda makers use it because, it’s safe to assume, it must be a fraction of a cent cheaper to sell soda that way. It can’t be because anyone thinks the pop top is better than the modern top. It’s not.

So. If I walked out my front door, I could find 10 pop tops in my first 20 steps. In the grass. On the pavement. Around the little dumpster.

To look down in this city is to see a pop top. They are everywhere.

This can’t be good. Little strips of semi-sharp aluminum every few feet. Good thing almost no one here goes barefoot. (The pavement gets way, way too hot.)

Eventually, the pop top will be banned here, because the UAE gets around to doing the right thing, eventually. Recycling of glass, plastic and paper is on the way. Etc.

I do what I can to help. When I drink a diet 7-Up, I always drop the pop top strip back into the empty can. So maybe it won’t fall back into our lives before the can completes its journey to the landfill.

Sometimes they are just behind a bit on things, here. And the pop top … the same that lacerated Jimmy Buffet’s heel … is still going strong here on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula.


3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mary Smith // Jun 24, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    I live in the US and am too young to have ever seen a pop top. Could you take photos of one (before and after opening the can) and post them here? Thanks for your interesting article. I always wondered about this when listening to the Jimmy Buffett song.

  • 2 cnoyes // Sep 28, 2018 at 7:25 AM

    I remember pop tops. As a kid, going to the beach, my mother constantly reminding us to keep our shoes on so they wouldn’t get cut (the things were everywhere on the ground).

  • 3 Tony // May 19, 2020 at 7:06 PM

    Thanks heaps Paul!
    Without this I would never have known what a Pop Top was. Here in Australia we called them Ring Pulls.
    BTW, there was another system here between these and the current design: Two push-in “buttons”, one small, one large on the can top which remained connected to the can.

Leave a Comment