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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?

Everyone may realize that we use resources like trees, copper, water, and gemstones, but how many of us realize the tremendous variety of elements we need to make a single electronic device? A tablet computer with a touch screen contains many common chemical elements and a variety of rare earth elements.

Common Materials We Use from the Earth

People depend on natural resources for just about everything that keeps us fed and sheltered, as well as for the things that keep us entertained. Every person in the United States uses about 20,000 kilograms (40,000 pounds) of minerals every year for a wide range of products, such as cell phones, TVs, jewelry, and cars. Table belowshows some common objects, the materials they are made from, and whether they are renewable or non-renewable.

Renewable resources
Resources that are virtually limitless or things that can be replaced as fast as they are used (from the perspective of humans), e.g., sunlight, wind, biomass, geothermal, and water (at least, ocean water).
Non-renewable resources
Resources that were formed or deposited on geologic timescales, and thus, cannot practically be replaced in the scale of human lifetimes, e.g., oil, gas, coal, uranium, osmium, and gold, 
Common Objects We Use From the Earth
Common Object Natural Resources Used Are These Resources Renewable or Non-Renewable?
Cars 15 different metals, such as iron, lead, and chromium to make the body. Non-renewable

Precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum.

Gems like diamonds, rubies, emeralds, turquoise.

Electronic Appliances (TV’s, computers, DVD players, cell phones, etc.) Many different metals, like copper, mercury, gold. Non-renewable

Soil to grow fibers such as cotton.

Sunlight for the plants to grow.

Animals for fur and leather.


Soil to grow plants.

Wildlife and agricultural animals.

Bottled Water

Water from streams or springs.

Petroleum products to make plastic bottles.

Non-renewable and Renewable
Gasoline Petroleum drilled from wells. Non-renewable
Household Electricity Coal, natural gas, solar power, wind power, hydroelectric power. Non-renewable and Renewable
Paper Trees; Sunlight Soil. Renewable

Trees for timber.

Rocks and minerals for construction materials, for example, granite, gravel, sand.

Non-renewable and Renewable


  • 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.


1. What resources are important to you that are renewable? Non-renewable?

2. What resources do you use that you could use less or not use at all?

3. How might one of these resources go from being renewable to non-renewable?

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