Do you know what item is recycled the most in the United States? Many people think that the answer is a household good such as newspapers or aluminum cans, but it’s not. The answer is actually cars. Over 12 million cars are recycled in the U.S. every year, and another 8 million vehicles are recycled annually in Europe.

Fortunately, approximately 86% of a car’s material can be recycled and reused. One of these recyclable materials is steel. Every year, more than 18 million tons of steel are melted down in the automotive recycling industry and reused. Recycled steel performs in the same manner as new steel, which is one of the reasons why it’s so valuable. Recycling steel is also far more environmentally friendly than producing new steel. It’s estimated that the use of recycled steel reduces water pollution by 76% and air pollution by 86%.

Plastic material used to create various parts of a vehicle can also be recycled and reused—even the tires. In fact, tens of millions of tires are recycled into mulch, playground surfaces, running tracks, and equestrian footings every year.

Nearly every part of the vehicle can be recycled, including the car’s battery. The used battery is broken apart and separated by material. The plastic parts of the battery can be recycled and made into new battery parts. The battery also contains a lot of a lead, which is a hazardous substance that must be handled with care. Almost all of the lead found within the battery can be recycled and reused to manufacture new batteries. Trained professionals can even neutralize the acids within the battery to transform them into sodium sulfate crystals, which can then be sold to manufacturers that produce glass products and textiles.

How to Recycle A Car

A car is obviously too large to participate in local curbside recycling programs, so many people are unsure of how to recycle their vehicles. To recycle a car, it’s best to research auto recycling facilities in your area. Look for a facility that is known for their safety and environmental standards. It’s best to find one that has been awarded the Certified Automotive Recycler (CAR) certification, which indicates the facility is committed to environmentally friendly practices.

If there is no recycling facility located nearby, don’t give up hope yet. You can also research non-profit organizations in your community that accept car donations. Many non-profits such as Habitat For Humanity and Wheels For Wishes will arrange to have vehicle donations picked up to make the process more convenient. Although the car will not be recycled, it will be given to a new owner who will happily reuse it.

Before saying goodbye to the vehicle, be sure to remove all of your personal belongings. You will also need to cancel the insurance policy covering the vehicle since it will no longer be in your possession. Finally, it’s important to work with the recycling facility or non-profit organization to transfer the registration to its new owner. Some facilities will handle the transfer for a small fee, so it’s best to ask whether this service is available before starting the process on your own.