How Does Waste Affect Our Natural Resources?
Adapted from A-way With Waste: A Waste Management Curriculum for Schools, 2nd ed., by State of Washington, Dept of Ecology
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SUBJECT AREAS: environmental science, social science
CONCEPT: Natural resources are limited.
OBJECTIVE: Students will compare estimated life expectancies of some nonrenewable natural resources and will understand the role recycling and careful use play in extending the availability of these resources.
handouts: Selected Nonrenewable Natural Resources (PDF file) andWorksheet: Nonrenewable Resources
KEYWORDS: static use, reserve base
BACKGROUND: The global demand for and consumption of most major nonfuel mineral commodities is projected to increase three to five percent annually, slightly more than doubling by the year 2000. There is a limit to how long an increasing population can continue to make increasing demands on our finite resources. Concentrated, easily mined reserves of nonrenewable resources are being depleted. The availability of these resources can be extended by careful use and recycling.
1. Distribute copies of the table Selected Nonrenewable Natural Resources: Their Life Expectancies and Prime Consumers (PDF file). Have students complete the worksheet and/or discuss the questions in class.
2. Discuss three alternate depletion patterns for a nonrenewable resource:
A. If we mine it, use it, and throw it away,
B. If we recycle it, or
C. If we reduce per capita use and recycle what is used.
What would a graph look like of the depletion of a nonrenewable resource under these three scenarios? (Under Scenario A, the curve would rise steeply, peak sharply, and then fall steeply when supplies are used up. Under Scenario B, the peak would be lower and less sharp, and farther to the right, indicating longer term availability of the resource. Under the third scenario, the peak is further flattened, and availability of the resource is extended even farther into the future.)
How can we determine how long a given resource might last? Any projections are based on two major sets of assumptions: (1) We must estimate the potentially available supply at existing (or future) acceptable prices and with existing (or improved) technology, and (2) We must estimate the annual rate at which the resources may be used.

Worksheet: Nonrenewable Resources
Examine the table "Selected Nonrenewable Natural Resources: Their Life Expectancies and Prime Consumers." Then answer the following questions:
1. Which column under the heading "Life Expectancy in Years" do you think is more accurate in estimating the length of time our nonrenewable resources will last?
2. What are some factors leading to the accelerated use of resources?
3. Examine the "static use" column under the heading "Life Expectancy in Years." Which nonrenewable natural resource will be used up first?
4. Which countries have the highest reserves of this resource? Locate these countries on a world map.
5. Why does the U.S. need to be concerned with the depletion of this resource?
6. Which nonrenewable resource will last the longest according to the static index?
7. According to the projected rates index?
8. Which countries have the highest reserves of this resource?
9. With which countries will the U.S. need to cooperate in order to get the amount of this resource it needs?
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