Are Metals Renewable or Nonrenewable?

Metals constitute some of the most valuable resources available by nature. They are found in the ore of the earth’s crust. There is a limit in the number of metals available, but these metals are highly recyclable and reusable. The most widely available metals are aluminum, titanium, iron, and copper. Among the precious metals include gold and silver. But, are these metals renewable? Let’s begin by understanding what it means to be renewable.

Definition of Renewable Resources

Different authors have different definitions of renewable resources, but all of them lie under the concept of being able to self-regenerate by nature or by ecological cycles. Precisely, a renewable resource can be replaced naturally while a nonrenewable resource cannot. Once depleted, a nonrenewable resource can never be found again.

Is Metal Nonrenewable?

Given the above definition, metal clearly falls under the category of nonrenewable resources. Basically, most nonrenewable resources are available underground, such as minerals, rocks, and fossil fuels. The elements or, instead, resources that are used in producing metals are also nonrenewable.

Examples of Nonrenewable Mineral Resources – Metal

Here are a few examples of the popular naturally available nonrenewable minerals. There are hundreds of minerals in the crust, but the ones listed below have extensively mined as they are of great use to humankind.

  • Aluminum
  • Lead
  • Tin
  • Copper
  • Silver
  • Gold

Why is Metal Nonrenewable?

From the definition, metals are nonrenewable because they cannot regenerate themselves. Think of it this way, a major mine has been identified, and all the ore that was desired has been extracted. Will you ever find the same metal in the mined region ever again? Well, obviously, that region can never boast of possessing the metal again. As a matter of fact, the open mine will cause severe impacts to the area. Therefore, once metals are mined and depleted, they are gone and gone forever.

Some critics may argue that the products made from these metals require the manufacturer to do some metal shaving, which returns metal dust back into the environment. In their argument, making products from metals barely uses 100% of the metal. Well, it’s essential if they viewed it from the perspective of how much “metal dust” would be needed to make virgin metal and how long it would take for the process to complete. It could probably take billions of years, and the so-called “dust” could not even make a quarter of the currently available metals in the earth’s crust.

Metal Production and Recycling

For a metal to be made, the ore is identified. It’s then mined and then process through breaking and grinding to form very tiny particles. Since the ground particles have a mix of elements, a magnet, heat, or some chemical such as Sulphuric acid is used to separate the desired metal from the other materials. A lot of resources are used during the mining and refining of metals. The mining and refining industries have currently limited the impact of these processes on the environment.

While metals are produced using nonrenewable elements, the metals themselves are recyclable hence reusable. According to statistics by an esteemed agency in charge of scrap recycling industries, there are approximately 81.6 million tons of steel and iron that are recycled annually. As for aluminum and copper, 5 million tons and 1.8 million tons are recycled per annum respectfully.

Recycling Doesn’t Make Metals Renewable

Recycled metal is simply the scrap metal that has been melted down and then cooled so that it gets shaped into a new product, which is a valuable metal. The process of recycling implies that miners will not get into the ore again to mine the metal. Instead, it means that the ore will be used less; hence it can sustain the consumers for a longer time. That will, of course, reduce the environmental impact of mining. Note, however, that recycling a metal doesn’t make it renewable. Instead, it makes the best use out of the metal while eliminating the need for mining new nonrenewable resources, not forgetting that it increases the metal’s cash value.

Bottom Line

Being valuable and important nonrenewable resources, metals demand to be used in the best way possible, bearing in mind that if they deplete, we’ll never see them again. Focusing on making the best use of metals by recycling will not only financially save us, but also it’ll protect the earth from the effects of constant mining activities.

Written by M Eduard

M. Eduard was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. Eduard spent his MBA summer internship at Sungevity, a residential solar energy retail company in Oakland, CA. He started this website to share his knowledge about renewable energy.