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non-renewable resource

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A non-renewable resource is one that either does not regenerate or does not regenerate quickly enough to serve some human purpose in a sustainable way.

The most common examples of non-renewable resources are fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas. Although these resources form naturally within the earth, they take billions of years to do so. Other non-renewable resources include metals, minerals and stone.

Resources considered renewable are those that are readily replenished such as solar, geothermal, wind and tidal energy. Energy derived from such sources is often called green power or clean electricity because it doesn’t deplete non-renewable resources or cause pollution.

 Some resources, although they regenerate, do not do so very quickly and are in danger of depletion in many locations because of overuse. There is some disagreement over whether such resources as wood and potable water are, in a practical sense, renewable.

How Stuff Works explains renewable and non-renewable resources:

See also: business sustainability, carbon offset, carbon-neutral, carbon footprint, carbon usage effectiveness (CUE), Green Grid

This was last updated in November 2013

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The answer is whether the resource is exhaustible over the period being used as to whether it's renewable. If you use less fish than grow every period, it's renewable. Same if you're using other things (like collecting honey, pinatas for tequila, or sap for maple syrup). If you harvest less wood in a year than grows to replace it, it's renewable. If you use lots more than it was created (like using ten million years production of petroleum in 100 years) it is not renewable.
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Potable water is renewable. Even sewage can be cleaned to drinking water standards. (Actually you can make sewage cleaner than the original water that is processed. You can throw pond scum at sewage by dumping it in pools and clean it without using chemicals. Industrial water either has to be processed with filtering and chemicals, possibly boiling, which is expensive and uses fossil fuels or maybe chemicals that cause a toxic problem.)
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