Raw material is the unprocessed items that are broken down, processed or combined with other materials to create an end product. It is used in practically all aspects of manufacturing and construction, as materials such as logs, crude oil and iron ore are converted into products that people use every day. The recycling industry has even built itself around making these items out of other products.
Usually, raw materials are unprocessed. This means they are in the same form that they have in their natural environment. For example, South American coffee beans are picked, ground into powder, and eventually made into a cup of cappuccino. This definition is not strict by any means, but acts as a shorthand way of defining a wide swath of natural items.
One common example is crude oil. Pockets of this thick, viscous material don't serve much of a purpose on their own. Crude oil normally is found far underground and requires deep digging to extract it. After it is brought to the surface, it can be transformed into many useful items such as the motor oil and gasoline that are essential to automobiles around the world.
Iron ore is another raw material that serves little purpose when it is embedded in rock formations. This rock put through a smelting process, meaning it is heated to high temperatures until its oxygen content is reduced. In this way, the raw ore is converted to the iron used in construction and manufacturing.
Many natural elements are raw materials waiting to be converted into everyday products. Rocks and oil are sometimes less obvious, because they are out of sight to most people, but trees are one of the most visible and versatile of such materials. Trees are cut into logs and, depending on the type of wood, can be transformed into an incredible variety of items. Items ranging from furniture to paper, boats, toothpicks and more started as simple trees.
These materials are generally things that occur naturally, but the recycling industry uses finished products for its raw materials. Each recycling process is different, but they all take used or excess products and convert them back to something useful. Paper recycling takes used newspapers, magazines, and sheets of paper and convert them back to pulp that can be made into paper. The plastics industry takes used milk jugs, soda bottles, and more and melts them down to be used in making new containers.