Resource Depletion: Definition, Examples, Causes, Effects, Solutions

In the guide below, we discuss resource depletion.

We provide a general definition, list some common examples, and also outline what the main causes, main effects, and main solutions might be.


What Is Resource Depletion? (A Definition)

A general description or definition of resource depletion might be the point at which a particular type of resource is being consumed at a faster rate than it’s being replenished, or, beyond it’s rate of replacement.

Resource depletion is sometimes referred to as ‘Natural Resource Depletion’ when referencing the depletion of natural resources like water, and minerals specifically


Resource Depletion vs The Economics Of Supplying A Resource

Resource depletion tends to be a phrase used in relation to sustainability.

However, it’s worth pointing out that the economics of supplying a resource to market may be different to the physical availability of a resource.

A resource could be physically available on Earth, however, it could be costly or unfeasible from an economic perspective to bring much or any of that resource to market.


Examples Of Resource Depletion

Some common examples of resource depletion might include:

– Water resources being depleted in some cities or towns

The water consumptions rate by the municipal, industrial and agricultural sectors might be faster than the replenishment rate by rainfall and by water generation methods (like desalination if it’s used)


– Land resources becoming more scarce for some applications in some regions

There’s only so much habitable and usable land in the world

Of this habitable land, agricultural land, especially arable land for growing crops is scarce, and there may only be a limited amount left

Another example of land being scarce for different land uses is land used for landfill – although land used for landfill isn’t necessarily running out soon in some places, in other places there might only be a certain amount of land suitable for new landfills depending on the regulations and approval process in place


– Agricultural topsoil being depleted in some regions

Various reports indicate that based on topsoil replenishment vs erosion rates, there might only be a few decades worth of topsoil left for agricultural production in some regions of the world


– Non renewable resources like fossil fuels being depleted 

Fossil fuels are regularly being used in most countries across the world 

However, fossil fuels are a scarce resource, and there’s various estimates on how much of each major fossil fuel we might have left


– Fish populations being depleted

In some oceanic regions, some fish populations are decreasing, from overfishing and other factors


– Ecosystems being depleted

Some reports include certain ecosystems as resources.

For example, some rainforests and wetlands might be considered ‘environmental resources’ because of the services and functions they provide in nature, and indirectly for humans and society.

Rainforests for example hold a high concentration of biodiversity on land.

Wetlands are other land based ecosystems that contribute to environmental health and biodiversity, and some successful and productive agricultural operations use the wetlands for agricultural production.

In the ocean, coral reefs can have a high concentration of marine biodiversity.


Causes Of Resource Depletion

The main cause of resource depletion is a resource being consumed at faster rate than it’s replaced or replenished.

However, more specific reasons/causes of resource depletion might be described as the following:

– Use Of A Non Renewable Resource

If a resource is non renewable, then by default, use of that resource is going to involve resource depletion of some kind because of an unsustainable replacement rate


– Use Of A Resource That Exceeds Natural Replenishment, & Man Made Generation Of That Resource

A resource like water can come from both natural and man made sources.

It can form naturally as part of the natural hydrological cycle, but, it can also be generated via various methods, with desalination being a key method on a city wide scale.

When the water consumption rate is greater than both the natural and man made replenishment rates combined, water resources might start depleting.


– Overconsumption

Relating to the point above, high or excessive consumption rates can lead to the depletion of resources

Some countries for example consume resources at much higher rates and totals than others


– Population Growth

Population growth (and overpopulation) can be a factor that leads to resource depletion

The more people in a given region or the world, the more of certain resources might that might be consumed


– Natural Causes notes that natural causes are the reason for the loss of some of the world’s wetlands


– Other Reasons & Causes

Using water as an example, water depletion can be impacted by many different factors specific to water as a resource

A few examples are how much natural water resources there are in a particular region of the world, and also the rainfall levels (i.e. how dry or wet the climate is) in a region

Using rainforests as another example, deforestation can cause the loss of rainforests and regular forests. also lists some non natural causes of loss of the world’s wetlands


Effects Of Resource Depletion

In General

The main effects of resource depletion might be that:

– The specific resource becomes more scarce

i.e. there is less of it physically available


– The price of that resource might increase as supply decreases, but demand stays the same

This is observed with some mineral ores and commodities from time to time


– There will be less of that resource available for the key uses it has in society

Because different resources have different uses, resource depletion of different resources may affect different parts of society, the economy or the environment differently.

Another way to describe this might be that resource supplies reach a level of scarcity where demand for those resources can’t adequately be met


Severity Of The Effects

Depletion of some types of resources can have a more severe effect on society than others.

If we take freshwater for example, it is critical to both society and individuals.

However, drinking water specifically is critical to human survival.

If a city or town is running out of drinking water, the effect this may have may be more severe than running out of non potable water used for watering lawns and gardens for example.


Some Effects May Be Irreversible

Some instances of resource depletion may either be very difficult to reverse, take a very long time to reverse, or, depletion can in some instances be irreversible

Once depletion reaches a certain point, it may also become very costly to address


How Much Resources Are Left On Earth, & Will We Run Out?

We’ve previously put together some summary guides that may in part address these questions:

How Much Resources Are Left On Earth, & Will We Run Out?

Why We Might Never Run Out Of Some Mined Resources


Potential Solutions To Resource Depletion

The main solution to resource depletion might be to manage resources in a more sustainable way, and/or to implement sustainable resource management practices.

We’ve put together a separate guide on sustainable resource management where we list and describe different resource management options and solutions.

A list summary of those potential options and solutions includes:

– Measuring, tracking and recording resource supply levels

– Reducing the consumption of resources (total consumption, but also the consumption rate or consumption intensity)

– Being more efficient when using resources

– Reducing either the waste or loss of resources

– Recycling, recovering and reclaiming resources from products and items

– Switching from using non renewable resources to renewable resources

– Consider meta factors in use of resources across society and on Earth

– Consider how space exploration and space mining may play a role in resource management in the future




1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides 



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