Natural resources such as mineral wealth, fossil fuels, fertile soils, fresh water, live-stock and fisheries, wild life and forests etc. provide the mankind with everything which is needed directly or indirectly. These resources can be renewable or non-renewable.

Renewable resources are those resources which can be regenerated whereas non-renewable resources are those resources which cannot be regenerated once they are exhausted. Both the renewable and non-renewable resources have their own limitations.

As far as materials are concerned, our planet is a closed system – nothing enters or leaves it. However, as far as energy is concerned, earth is an open system. It regularly receives large amounts of energy from the sun much of which has to be re-radiated back to space in order to maintain a controlled temperature.

Therefore, man-kinds immediate environment, the planet earth, is limited in both size and space as well as in its mineral resources. The total amount of matter present on our planet is fixed and final – except for some cosmic particles entering and some light gases leaving from the outer atmosphere. Since a constant flow of materials is needed to maintain the living being, the society or an economy, it is not one way consumption but a regular re-use and recycling which has so far enabled the biosphere to maintain itself since life began on this planet.


Sustainable management of natural resources, therefore, involves different type of strategies for renewable and non-renewable resources:

Sustainable Management of Non-Renewable Resources

Our mineral wealth and deposits of fossil fuels are non-renewable nature. Long periods of geochemical and biological activity have collected these materials to form the concentrated deposits which we dig out today. We may not irreversibly consume these materials but their exploitation does scatter them in dispersed state in the environment. Rapid over-exploitation shall exhaust many of our concentrated deposits which took millions of years to form. They cannot be duplicated within the human scale of time. They require time on geologic scale.

Thus, metals and mineral are inexhaustible. What we can do at the most is to scatter them in environment. We are technologically competent enough to recover the desired element from the highly dispersed state in our waste dumps, sands and soils, lakes and oceans. In the process, non­renewable materials may become more and more expensive due to the cost involved in their extraction. The sustainable management of our mineral wealth, therefore, involves strategies to extend their life span:


1. Economy in the use of mineral resources, reduction in wastage and wherever possible the use of some cheaper substitute – such as plastics etc.

2. Re-use and recycling which shall reduce the demand on virgin material.

3. Making finished products long lasting which shall have the effect of decreasing the demand of the commodity, reducing thereby the demand of the metal concerned.

4. More efficient recovery of elements from the deposits which shall curtail wastage and where smaller amounts of other elements are present in the deposits these may also be tapped.


5. Protection of existing deposits and search for new ones.

There is little danger of our exhausting the metals and minerals. They will always be present in one form or another in scattered state from where we can extract them. Fossil fuels, however, present an entirely different story. These deposits were formed by photosynthetic activity carried out by green plants millions of years ago.

Photosynthesis traps solar energy between the bonds of the constituent atoms of the organic molecules which are produced. It is not the element but it is actually the energy trapped which is used when we burn fossil fuels. This energy after serving its purpose is finally dissipated in the environment. This makes fossils fuels so precious.