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Materials Humans Use

Humans use a tremendous number of resources; here are a few and what they are used for.

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Materials Humans Use

What resources are in those electronics?

When you pick up your personal electronics device or your mobile phone do you ever think about what's in it? A tremendous variety of elements are needed to make a single electronic device. Some are rare, some are common. All must somehow come from Earth or its environment.

Natural Resources

A natural resource is anything in nature that humans need. Metals and fossil fuels are natural resources. But so are water, sunlight, soil, and wind. Even living things are natural resources.

Using Natural Resources

We need natural resources for just about everything we do. We need them for food and clothing, for building materials, and energy. We even need them to have fun. Listed below are examples of how we use natural resources (Table below). Can you think of other ways we use natural resources?

Use Resources Example


Rubber for tires from rubber trees

Steel frames and other metal parts from minerals such as iron

Iron ore


Plastic cases from petroleum products

Glass screens from minerals such as lead

Lead ore


Nails from minerals such as iron

Timber from trees

Spruce timber


Gemstones such as diamonds

Minerals such as silver

Silver ore


Sunlight, water, and soil

Minerals such as phosphorus

Corn seeds in soil


Wool from sheep

Cotton from cotton plants

Cotton plants


Water for boating and swimming

Forests for hiking and camping

Pine forest

Some natural resources are renewable. Others are non-renewable. It depends on what they are and how we use them.


  • Many objects, such as a car, contain many types of resources.
  • Resources may be renewable or non-renewable, and an object may contain some of each.
  • Rare earth elements and other unusual materials are used in some electronic devices.

Explore More

Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What products require rare earth elements?
  2. What is neodymium used for?
  3. What is lanthanum used for?
  4. What is praseodymium used for?
  5. What is cerium used to produce?
  6. What is gadolinium used in?
  7. What country controls 97% of the rare earth elements?
  8. What is the largest rare earth mine in the world?
  9. Why are rare earth elements difficult to extract?
  10. Why couldn't the U.S. compete with China in producing rare earth elements?
  11. What type of mines are used to extract rare earth elements?
  12. How many tonnes (metric tons) of rare earth elements did China export in 2010?
  13. Why is China now limiting their exports?


  1. What are natural resources?
  2. Is clean air a natural resource? Why or why not?
  3. What natural resources are important to you?


natural resource

natural resource

Useful material that is found in nature.

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