Natural Resources


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Natural resources are defined as the raw materials we use for cooking, housing, transportation, heating, etc. They even include the water we drink and the air we breathe. These can all be classified as either:

  • perpetual
  • nonrenewable
  • renewable

Perpetual resources, such as solar energy, wind and tides, last seemingly forever, at least in relation to our life span. Super-hot steam from deep underground is another example.

Nonrenewable resources, however, exist in limited amounts, and once they are used up, they cannot be replaced. An example would be fossil fuels such as oil, which are formed through natural processes that span millions of years. If all the oil were to be used up, there would be no more, at least not for millions of additional years. Likewise, selenium and cadmium used in batteries are nonrenewable resources, because there are limited amounts of those elements in the earth’s crust. Other nonrenewable resources such as copper were created billions of years ago during the explosion of giant stars. These types of nonrenewable resources are, therefore, not created through any known, natural process here on earth. Should we run out of these kinds of metals, we could only get them from mining on the moon or other planets.

Renewable resources are materials that can be replenished through natural and/or human processes. For example, even though trees die naturally or are harvested by lumber companies, new trees are re-seeded by nature or planted by people. Another example is livestock. Although Americans consume large amounts of chicken and beef products, new chickens and cows are being raised to maintain the supply. Renewable resources need to be carefully managed. Species of animals may be hunted so extensively that there is no chance for renewal to occur. In addition, grasslands may become overgrazed to the point where the soil loses its ability to support plant life and prevent erosion. Groundwater supplies may be pumped out of the ground faster than precipitation can replenish them. Just ask anyone with well water during a drought!

The maximum rate at which a renewable resource can be used without reducing the capacity of the resource to renew itself is called sustainable yield. This is an especially important equation for the lumber industry, because it means calculating how many trees can be harvested without destroying the forest’s ability to produce replacement trees.

Categories of Natural Resources

1. On earth, there are only limited amounts of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas. There are also only limited amounts of minerals, such as iron, copper and bauxite. These resources either cannot be replaced by natural processes or require millions of years to replenish.  These are called nonrenewable resources.

2. Some renewable and nonrenewable resources can be recycled or reused. This process decreases the rate at which the supplies of these resources are depleted. For example, aluminum cans can be recycled and turned into “new” cans or other aluminum products many times over. Recycling reduces the need to mine bauxite, the mineral used to manufacture aluminum.

3. Renewable natural resources include plants, animals and water when they are properly cared for. Minerals and fossil fuels such as coal and oil are examples of nonrenewable natural resources.

4. Trees, wildlife, water and many other natural resources are replaced by natural processes. Plants and animals can also be replenished by human activities. Water is continuously cycled and reused. Sunlight, wind, geothermal heat, tides and flowing water are perpetual resources.


Household Recycling

Most communities in the United States have set up recycling programs to conserve resources and reduce the amount of waste going into landfills. Specific recycling procedures may vary from community to community, but the following list identifies some common ways to deal with commonly recycled items. Check with your local program for accurate information about procedures in your community.

The Importance of Recycling and Reuse of Resources

When we recycle or reuse natural resources, we decrease the demand on the resources and also save energy. For example, when we recycle aluminum cans, less bauxite needs to be mined to create “new” aluminum cans.

In summary, whether we use wood for houses, aluminum for airplanes, electricity to light our homes or water to quench our thirst, the choices we make every day to use renewable and nonrenewable resources to meet our needs has an impact on the global environment. Decisions to recycle whenever possible and to develop new recycling technologies can extend the availability of nonrenewable resources.

Buying Recycled Products

Benefits of Buying Recycled Products

Recycling is working! The proof is that the paper, plastic, metal, and glass that you've been recycling is now being made into all sorts of everyday products and packages. There's just one thing left to do: Buy them!

That's the "cycle" in recycling: You sort out recyclable materials, your city or town collects them, and manufacturers buy them to make into products again. By selecting those products when you shop, you can spur companies to use more recycled materials and keep the ball rolling. So look for products made from recycled materials, and buy them.

Save Natural Resources
By making products from recycled materials instead of virgin materials, we reduce the need to cut down trees, drill for oil, and dig for minerals.

Save Energy
It usually takes less energy to make recycled products: recycled aluminum, for example, takes 95% less energy to make than new aluminum from bauxite ore.

Save Clean Air and Water
In most cases, making products from recycled materials creates less air pollution and water pollution than making products from virgin materials.

Save Landfill Space
When the materials that you recycle go into new products, they don't go into landfills or incinerators, so scarce landfill space is conserved.

Save Money and Create Jobs
The recycling process creates far more jobs than landfills or incinerators, and recycling can frequently be the least expensive waste management method for cities and towns.


Buying Recycled Packaging

These four types of packaging can always be counted on to have a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content, even though many such packages are not yet labeled.


Aluminum Beverage Cans
About 50% of the aluminum in beverage cans comes from used cans that were recycled and melted to make new cans. 


Glass Bottles & jar
Nearly 25% of the glass in bottles and jars has been used before, recycled, and remanufactured.


"Tin" (Steel) Cans
So-called "tin" cans are actually made of steel, usually with a thin coating of tin. About 25% of the content is recycled steel, half of that being post-consumer.


Molded Pulp Containers
Gray or brown cardboard egg cartons, fruit trays, and flower pots are made from recycled paper that is re-pulped and reshaped.



Water Use and Conservation

Americans use an incredible amount of water every day. A toilet averages six gallons of water with every flush, and a big load of laundry requires at least 35 gallons of water. Americans directly consume 36 billion gallons of water a day. In addition, water used by industry, utility companies and agriculture (including livestock) brings the total used every year in the United States to 394 billion gallons. At almost 2,000 gallons a day per person, this is the highest per capita consumption in the world. (Canada is second.)

Only about .003 percent of the Earth’s water is available for use. The rest is either saltwater, locked up in polar ice caps or located too deep in the ground to retrieve. If 26 gallons represented the entire world’s supply of water, then our usable supply of fresh water would be one-half teaspoon. Although natural systems can continually recycle this fresh water, the rate at which we use water is a growing concern.

Much of the water we use every day is groundwater that fills the spaces between rocks and soil particles beneath the ground. The biggest source of groundwater is rain and snow that has seeped down into the soil. This trickle-down process takes time, however, as deep groundwater supplies may require hundreds of years to be replenished. In many areas of the United States (and the world), the rate at which groundwater is being used far outpaces the rate at which it can be replenished. Whether our water supplies come from drinking water (as does half the drinking water in the United States) or from lakes, reservoirs or streams, using too much water too fast can cause problems for people and wildlife.

Through dams, reservoirs and wells, people constantly try to increase the availability of fresh water. If everyone made an effort to conserve water by making a few changes in their daily routines, huge amounts of water could be saved. For example, if people made small adjustments to their daily routine such as installing a water-saving showerhead or faucet and turning off the water while they shave or brush their teeth, each person could save 7,000 - 10,000 gallons a year.

Community Water Use

1. Thermoelectric Utilities

187 billion gallons/day

2. Irrigation

137 billion gallons/day

3. Public Water Supply

36 billion gallons/day

4. Industry

26 billion gallons/day

5. Rural and Livestock

8 billion gallons/day


394 billion gallons/day

Personal Water Use

1. flushing the toilet

1.5–7 gallons

2. taking a shower

25–50 gallons

3. taking a bath

36 gallons

4. washing clothes

35–60 gallons

5. washing dishes (machine)

10 gallons

6. brushing teeth

2 gallons

7. washing hands

2 gallons

8. watering the lawn

5–10 gallons/minute




Simple Things You Can Do

Get Informed

There are many sources of free information about conservation available in your community including the library, local recycling center and your utility company.  Many utility companies also have special money saving programs including, classes, free or reduced costs low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads, compact fluorescent bulbs, and low cost loans for replacing outdated heating and cooling systems, water heaters, windows and installing installation.

Aerate Your Faucets

The normal faucet flow is 2-5 gallons of water per minute.  By attaching a low-flow aerator, you can reduce the flow by 50%.  Incredibly, although the flow is drastically reduced, it will seem stronger because air is mixed into the water as it leaves the rap.  Installing low-flow aerators on kitchen and bathroom faucets as well as using low-flow shower heads will save hot water.  It will also cut water use by 300 gallons per month or more for a typical family of 4. 

Don’t Let the Water Run

The average household can save up to 20,000 gallons of water each year by shutting off the water while brushing their teeth, shaving or washing dishes.

  • A running faucet let 2-5 gallons of water down the drain every minute it’s on.
  • You will easily use more than 5 gallons of water if you leave the tap running while you brush your teeth
  • Washing dishes with the tap running can use an average of 30 gallons of water (and power to heat the water).
  • If you shave with the water on, you use an estimated 10-20 gallons each time.
  • If you wash your car at home and leave the hose running you will use up to 150 gallons of water each time.

The Greenhouse Effect

The ‘greenhouse effect’ when functioning normally keeps our planet warm.  Natural gases in the atmosphere form a blanket which allows sunlight to reach the earth’s surface, but prevents heat from escaping (much like the glass in a greenhouse).  This gas blanket traps heat close to the surface and warms the atmosphere. A majority of this greenhouse effect is natural, maintaining Earth's average temperature at about 60o F. Without the natural greenhouse effect, Earth's average temperature would be about 0o F

The Greenhouse Gases

  • Carbon Dioxide (C02).  Responsible for about 50% of the greenhouse effect.  Every year, people add 6 billion tons of it into the atmosphere.  The main sources of CO2 include burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, and the destruction of forests – which release CO2 when they’re burned or cut down.
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).  Not only responsible for 15-20% of the global warming, but also destroy the earth’s ozone layer.
  • Methane.  18% of the greenhouse effect.  Produced by cattle, rice fields, and by landfills.
  • Nitrous Oxide (NOx).  Responsible for 10%.  Formed by microbes, breaking down chemical fertilizers, and by burning wood and fossil fuels.

·         Ozone.  Is an invisible layer of gas in the atmosphere that shields the earth from ultraviolet radiation.  While it plays an important role in sustaining life on the earth an increase comes from ground-based pollution caused by motor vehicles, power plants and oil refineries.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Global warming refers to an expected rise in global average temperature due to the continued emission of greenhouse gases produced by industry and agriculture, which trap heat in the atmosphere. Higher temperatures are expected to be accompanied by changing patterns of precipitation frequency and intensity, changes in soil moisture, and a rise of the global sea level.

The atmospheric concentrations of several greenhouse gases are rising as a result of human activity. Carbon dioxide, the most important human-made greenhouse gas, is released primarily by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. Its concentration has risen by nearly 30% over its value in pre-industrial times. Concentrations of other greenhouse gases have also risen; methane levels have more than doubled and nitrous oxide levels are increasing as well.

There is a worldwide consensus among climate scientists that global average temperature will rise over the next 100 years if the release of greenhouse gases from human activity continues to grow. Assessments by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) project that Earth could experience the fastest warming in the history of civilization during the 21st century. Specifically, according to the IPCC, Earth may warm by 1.8oF to 6.3oF by the end of the next century, potentially making it warmer than at any time since the evolution of modern humans.

Such a global temperature rise would be associated with significant climate change. The difference in global average temperature between modern times and the last ice age -- when much of Canada and the northern United States were covered with a thick ice sheet -- was only about 9oF. A temperature rise of similar magnitude could have serious, potentially devastating effects on society and ecosystems.


Aluminum cans are easily recyclable.  Some states including Oregon have a ‘bottle bill’ which requires consumers to pay a small deposit which can be redeemed when you return the empty can to the retailer.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal on earth, but it was only discovered in the 1820s.  At that time it was worth more than gold.  The first aluminum beverage can appeared in 1963 and today accounts for the largest single use of aluminum.  In1985 more than 70 billion beverage cans were used, of which almost 66 billion were aluminum.

Some interesting fact about aluminum:

  • If you throw an aluminum can out, it will still litter the earth 500 years later.
  • If you throw away 2 aluminum cans, you waste more energy than is used daily by each of over 1 billion humans in third-world countries.
  • Americans recycled nearly 43 billion aluminum cans in 1988.
  • In one year alone aluminum can recycling saved enough electricity to light New York City for six months.
  • The energy saved from recycling one aluminum can will operate a television set for over 3 hours.
  • Recycling aluminum cuts related air pollution by 95%.
  • Making aluminum from recycled aluminum uses 90% less energy than making aluminum from bauxite ore.

Auto manufacturers recommend that we change the oil in our cars every 3,000-5,000 miles.  But they don’t tell us what to do with the old orders.  Used motor oil also contains toxins picked up by flowing through your engine.

  • Experts estimate that 40% of the pollution in America’s waterways is from used motor oil.  About 2.1 million tons of the stuff finds its way into our rivers and streams every year.
  • When used motor oil is poured into the ground, it can seep into the groundwater and contaminate drinking water supplies.  A single quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water.
  • Pouring oil into the sewer or onto the street where it will wash into the sewer is like pouring it directly into a stream or a river.
  • Tossing oil into the trash is almost the same as pouring it out.  The oil will be dumped in a landfill, where it will eventually seep into the ground.

Things you can do with used oil:

  • Get your oil changed at a gas-station or quick-lube.
  • If you change your oil yourself, collect the oil in a sealed plastic container (like a gallon milk jug) and put it with your recycling (call to make sure your local community accepts this method).  Most communities have places that will accept used motor oil for a small fee.

What happens to used oil?

  • Most recycled oil is reprocessed and sold a fuel.  The rest is processed into lubricating and industrial oils.
  • A new technology created by Evergreen Oil can turn a gallon of used motor oil into 2.5 quarts of new oil.  That is compared to the 42 gallons of crude oil it takes to make the same 2.5 quarts.
  • If America refined the billion gallons of motor oil we use every year, we would save 1.3 million barrels of oil every day.  That’s ½ the daily output of the Alaska Pipeline.



Culture and Environment Mod 2 – Worksheet

1.     What options would we have if we used up a non-renewable resource? ______________________________


2.   What does the term “sustainable yield” mean? ___________________________________________________


3.   Why is sustainable yield important to the Oregon timber industry? __________________________________


4.   What are the five benefits of buying recycled products?  __________________________________________,

      _________________________________________,  ________________________________________________,

      _________________________________________,  ________________________________________________

5.   Use the “Personal Water Use” chart on page 3 to estimate the number of gallons of water you might use in an average week:  ___________________________gallons.

6.   Which of the following is a good and easy way to conserve water in the home?

A.   Install low-flow aerators on the faucets

B.    Install low-flow heads in the showers

C.    Turn off the faucet while your are shaving and brushing your teeth

D.    All of the above


7.   What are ‘greenhouse gases’?

A.   An alternative fuel source for automobiles

B.   Chemical compounds in the earth’s atmosphere that prevent heat from escaping

C.    The gases that are produced by plants grown in a greenhouse

D.    None of the above


9.   What is Ozone?

A.    An invisible layer of gas in the atmosphere that shields the earth from ultraviolet radiation

B.    A byproduct of water purification

C.    A new energy drink from the Pepsi Cola company

D.    A region of central Oregon known for its old-growth forest and natural, therapeutic hot springs 


7.     What is the proper way to dispose of used motor oil?

A.    Pour it into the sewer or down your sink so it can be properly processed

B.    Collect it in a sealed container and put it out with your recycling, bring it to a recycling center or to a Quick Lube so it can be reprocessed

C.    Collect it in a sealed container and throw it away with your trash

D.    Collect the oil in a shallow pan, set it outside and allow it to evaporate over time

8.     Classify each of the following resources as renewable (R), nonrenewable (N) or perpetual (P).

a.   field of corn  ______                                               g.   tuna in the ocean ______

b.    oil in the Arctic tundra  ______                              h.   gold mines in the western US  ______

c.     coal in the Appalachian Mountains  ______          i.    hot springs in Arkansas  ______

d.    sunshine everywhere  ______                                j.    sand on a seashore  ______

e.     tides in San Francisco Bay  ______                       k.   a breeze over the Oklahoma plains  _______

      f.    trees in a forest  ______                                         l.    a salmon in a stream  ______