Mineral resources are essential to life as we know it. A nation cannot be prosperous without a reliable source of minerals, and no country has all the mineral resources it requires. The United States has about 5 percent of the world’s population and 7 percent of the world’s land area, but uses about 30 percent of the world’s mineral resources.
It imports a large percentage of its minerals; in some cases sufficient quantities are unavailable in the U.S., and in others they are cheaper to buy from other countries. Certain minerals, particularly those that are primarily imported and considered of vital importance, are stockpiled by the United States in order to protect against embargoes or other political crises. These strategic minerals include: bauxite, chromium, cobalt, manganese and platinum.
Because minerals are produced slowly over geologic time scales, they are considered non-renewable resources. The estimated mineral deposits that are economically feasible to mine are known as mineral reserves. The growing use of mineral resources throughout the world raises the question of how long these reserves will last. Most minerals are in sufficient supply to last for many years, but a few (e.g. gold, silver, lead, tungsten and zinc) are expected to fall short of demand in the near future. Currently, reserves for a particular mineral usually increase as the price for that mineral increase. This is because the higher price makes it economically feasible to mine some previously unprofitable deposits, which then shifts these deposits to the reserves. However, in the long term this will not be the case because mineral deposits are ultimately finite.
There are ways to help prolong the life of known mineral reserves. Conservation is an obvious method for stretching reserves. If you use less, you need less. Recycling helps increase the amount of time a mineral or metal remains in use, which decreases the demand for new production. It also saves considerable energy, because manufacturing products from recycled metals (e.g. aluminum, copper) uses less energy than manufacturing them from raw materials.
Government legislation that encourages conservation and recycling is also helpful. The current “General mining Act of 1872,” however, does just the opposite. It allows mining companies to purchase government land very inexpensively and not pay any royalties for minerals extracted from that land. As a result, mineral prices are kept artificially low which discourages conservation and recycling.