Renewable Vs Non-Renewable Resources – Basic Science

Scientists and Economists talk about these two topics all the time! They are two basic terms that we learn in most science classes.

We need to think about them a little harder.

The great question in the world is do we have enough Non-Renewable Resources to sustain the growth that the planet has been undergoing for the past century?  The second great question is can we produce and manage our Renewable Resources to last?

The answer to the first question is “probably not!”

The answer to the second question is “I hope so!”

These are MY definitions of Renewable and Non-Renewable Resources.

A Renewable Resource is one that we can cultivate (plants to eat, trees to build with), and/or produce from an infinite resource (like wind, water or solar) that if managed properly can be renewed over and over again. Electricity produced by wind, solar is renewable because the fuel source is long lived.

Renewable - Sun Tracking Solar Array
Renewable – Sun Tracking Solar Array

A Non-Renewable Resource – Is what we have and use that cannot be reproduced except in geologic time?  Think about it, Coal, Oil, Metals…any commodity that we extricate from the earth and refine to make and run the durable (sometimes not so durable) goods.  Cars, watches, appliances, jewelry etc. are all examples.  These items are constructed from the mining of the earth and the fabrication of metals.  They are run by batteries or fuels that are taken from the earth.  Electricity produced by oil, gas or coal powered plants is not renewable.

Non-Renewable - Discarded Appliances

Non-Renewable – Discarded Appliances

Non-Renewable vs. Recyclable

Just because certain mined materials are extracted from the earth doesn’t mean that they’re not recyclable  It just means that once that raw ingredient is mined and used, it basically must be recycled if its to be of value again. For example; aluminum cans, plastics, steel, rare metals etc.  This gives you an indication of the importance of recycling these products.

These are definitions from various “Official Internet” sources.

Renewable Resource – Are defined as follows;

The Free Dictionary says;

Noun 1. renewable resource – any natural resource (as wood or solar energy) that can be replenished naturally with the passage of time

natural resource, natural resources – resources (actual and potential) supplied by nature

National Geographic – Green Living gets much more detailed.  They break renewables into the following categories.

Biomass, Water, Geothermal, Wind, and Solar.  Each one has a paragraph or so about why they are important.  Read the following link for a more detailed explanation…

The business says this rather short and complete definition –

A resource that can be totally replaced or is always available naturally, or that is practically inexhaustible.

And Finally – Wikipedia says this about Renewable Resources –

A renewable resource is a natural resource which can replenish with the passage of time, either through biological reproduction or other naturally recurring processes. Renewable resources are a part of Earth‘s natural environment and the largest components of its ecosphere. A positive life cycle assessment is a key indicator of a resource’s sustainability. In 1962, Paul Alfred Weiss defined Renewable Resources as: “The total range of living organisms providing man with food, fibers, drugs, etc…“.[1]

Renewable resources may be the source of power for renewable energy. However, if the rate at which the renewable resource is consumed exceeds its renewal rate, renewal and sustainability will not be ensured.

The term renewable resource also describes systems like sustainable agriculture and water resources.[2] Sustainable harvesting of renewable resources (i.e., maintaining a positive renewal rate) can reduce air pollution, soil contamination, habitat destruction and land degradation.[3]

Non-Renewable Resources are defined as follows;

The Free Dictionary states –

A non-renewable resource is a natural resource that cannot be re-made, re-grown or regenerated on a scale comparative to its consumption. It exists in a fixed amount that is being consumed or used up faster than it can be made by nature. Fossil fuels (such as coal, petroleum and natural gas) and nuclear power are non-renewable resources, as they do not naturally re-form at a rate that makes the way we use them sustainable and consumer materials to produce electricity.

National Geographic states-

Nonrenewable resources are used worldwide to create electricity, heat homes, power vehicles and manufacture goods. Resources are considered nonrenewable if their quantities are limited or if they cannot be replaced as fast as they are used up. Some nonrenewable resources have been formed over millions of years and will eventually be depleted altogether.

The Business Dictionary. com states –

1. That cannot be renewed: a nonrenewable license.2. Of or relating to an energy source, such as oil or natural gas, or a natural resource, such as a metallic ore, that is not replaceable after it has been used.

Wikipedia states –

A non-renewable resource is a natural resource which cannot be reproduced, grown, generated, or used on a scale which can sustain its consumption rate; once depleted there will be no more available for future use. Also considered non-renewable are resources that are consumed much faster than nature can create them. Fossil fuels (such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas), nuclear power (uranium) and certain aquifers are examples. Metal ores are prime examples of non-renewable resources.


A wide range of definitions

It appears that renewable resources are defined very favorably by  the various authors for a lot of reasons.  Don’t get me wrong.  most non-renewable resources are not bad.  They are just that.  NON-RENEWABLE!  Once they’re gone they’re gone!

Remember – Depletion without equal replacement of a Renewable Resource or Depletion of Non-Renewable Resources without major efforts to recycle is not Sustainable. Make sure what you throw away isn’t something that can be recycled.

Make your world Sustainable!

Make your world Sustainable!


About rsingram

Environmental Specialist, Disaster Reservist, Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control, Para-Archeologist
This entry was posted in Alternative Energy, Economics, Education, Environment, non-renewable, Renewable and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Renewable Vs Non-Renewable Resources – Basic Science

  1. Louise says:

    This is an excellent explanation of the terms that are used in conversations about sustainabilty.

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