Renewable vs Non Renewable Resources: Difference, Examples, & More

In the guide below, we explain and compare renewable vs non renewable resources.

We identify what each one is, the main difference between them, and provide some examples.


What Are Renewable Resources?

Renewable resources are resources that replenish at a rate that is equal to or greater than the rate they are consumed or used at

Replenishment generally happens via natural processes (such as rainfall in the case of fresh water), but, it may happen via other repeatable processes too (such fresh water augmentation in the form of desalination – however, some argue how renewable man made processes like this actually is as it relies on energy consumption and other inputs)

Some definitions of ‘renewable’ mention that replenishment should happen over the scale of a human lifetime (but, comparing consumption relative to replenishment may be a better metric)

Because these resources are replaced as they are used, they are abundant 

Renewable resources tend to be natural resources


What Are Non Renewable Resources?

Non renewable resources are resources that either don’t replenish at all, or, they replenish at a rate that is slower than the rate they are being consumed (i.e. below the required resource replacement rate)

Non renewable resources are sometimes referred to as scarce resources.


Renewable vs Non Renewable Resources – Main Difference/s

The main difference between renewable and non renewable resources is that:

– Renewable resources can be replenished at a rate that is equal to or greater than the rate of consumption, and this may make them more sustainable to use


– Non renewable resources on the other hand don’t replenish at a rate that allows continued long term consumption.

In theory, they may eventually face resource depletion issues, and this may make them less sustainable


Examples Of Both Renewable & Non Renewable Resources

Some examples of both renewable and non renewable resources might include:


Renewable Resources

– Renewable Energy

There’s various forms of renewable energy, such as solar, wind, hydro, geothermal (from the Earth’s heat)


– Biomass Resources

Includes organic material and plant based material

Some examples include wood, bamboo, cotton, and so on


– Freshwater From The Hydrological Cycle

Fresh water on Earth is constantly cycling through what is called the ‘hydrological cycle’

This cycle involves mainly evaporation, condensation and precipitation

Rain fall fills rivers, lakes, groundwater aquifers, man made dams, and other places that fresh water can be stored

This is how water is naturally renewed

However, there’s other sources of fresh water that we use in society too 


Non Renewable Resources

– Fossil Fuels

Such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum


– Other Minerals & Ores

Other minerals and ores include examples such as gold, silver, and other metal ores

Diamonds also take billions of years to form in nature


– Land In General

There is only so much land in the world, and there’s only so much habitable land in the world that can be used for different land uses


– Agricultural Land

There’s also only a finite amount of arable agricultural land suitable for growing certain types of crops 


– Agricultural Topsoil

Agricultural topsoil forms over very long time cycles – these time cycles are greater than the erosion rate in many parts of the world


– Groundwater Aquifers

Some reports lists groundwater aquifers as non renewable resources because of how long they can take to recharge.


Other Considerations For Renewable & Non Renewable Resources

Although some resources are generally classified as either renewable or non renewable, there can be some exceptions and nuances to these general classifications.

Some examples of this might include:

– Man Made Water Augmentation Methods

Water is generally renewable because of the natural hydrological cycle (as water is used and it evaporates, it is then replaced again via rainfall/precipitation)

However, there’s a range of factors that can impact how much water is left to use in each city or town worldwide.

Additionally, more modern technology like desalination can help augment water supplies in addition to what is provided naturally.

Replenishment might happen via a natural process, or some other type of man made process (such as man made water augmentation processes, like desalination)


– Recycling & Re-Using Minerals & Ores

Minerals or ores like gold are generally considered as non renewable and finite

However, gold can be recycled, and ultimately re-used

When resources can be recovered or re-used, being classified as a non renewable resource may not be as much of an issue for the sustainability of using this these resources (although, there may still be some challenges and limitations)

Other metals like aluminum and steel are also recycled at high rates across the world


– New Technology That Converts 

In the future, developments with new technology may help convert some materials back into their raw form, and this raw form may be a form of a non renewable resource.

One potential example of this might be technology that may have the potential to convert plastic back into oil


Finite vs Infinite Resources – Difference, & Examples

Finite and infinite resources are essentially another way to describe renewable and non renewable resources.

Finite Resources

Finite resources are resources that are scarce i.e. there is only a limited physical amount of these resources

A major reason for this may be that the resource doesn’t replenish, or takes a long time to replenish.

Examples of finite resources are similar to those given for non renewable resources


Infinite Resources

Infinite resources are abundant.

There’s either an unlimited or, almost unlimited physical amount of these resources.

A few key reasons for this may be the natural resource supples levels are high, and/or replenishment can happen quickly and easily.

Examples of infinite resources are similar to those given for renewable resources




1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides


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