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What is Raw Material?

Patrick Wensink
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Patrick Wensink
By Patrick Wensink , Former Writer
Patrick Wensink, a bestselling novelist and nonfiction writer, captivates readers with his engaging style across various genres and platforms. His work has been featured in major publications, including attention from The New Yorker. With a background in communication management, Wensink brings a unique perspective to his writing, crafting compelling narratives that resonate with audiences.

Discussion Comments

By anon332704 — On Apr 30, 2013

What are the raw materials used in coffee?

By anon299281 — On Oct 24, 2012

Medicine would all come from raw materials because everything has to start out as one. I hate it when people are searching and searching for medicine from raw materials when pretty much all of it is. They just need to be careful how they use it.

By anon299088 — On Oct 23, 2012

What about medication? Don't most medicines come from raw materials? I often hear that helpful medication is unnatural and harmful much of the time, but that wouldn't make sense if it comes from raw materials, unless the patient is misusing it.

By ceilingcat — On Apr 30, 2012

It's interesting how some raw materials needs a lot of processing to become a final product, while others do not. For example, crude oil goes through a lot of processing before it becomes a finished product. However, wood does not (well, not all the time anyway.)

I don't think it takes that much processing for a tree to become a toothpick, or a piece of wood to be used in furniture. I guess things like particle board take a little more processing, but maybe not as much processing as it takes to make crude oil into gasoline.

By Monika — On Apr 29, 2012

@starrynight - I hear people use the phrase like that sometimes too. Even if it isn't technically correct, I think it fits the popular meaning of the term!

It is interesting to think about the amount of things that might count as a raw material though. Before reading this article, I was familiar with crude oil as a raw material. However, I never would have thought of a coffee bean as a raw material! But I guess a coffee bean goes through almost as much processing to become a final product as crude oil does!

By starrynight — On Apr 28, 2012

You know, I think the term "raw material" also has a colloquial meaning. I hear a lot of people use the phrase to refer to things that are used to create a finished product, and not just things like iron ore or trees!

For examples, I hear people sometimes use the term to refer to the materials used to make a craft project. So for a sewing project, fabric and thread would be the raw materials, and the garment would be the finished product.

I also hear the term sometimes in cooking. The ingredients are the raw material used to create the meal you're cooking!

Patrick Wensink

Patrick Wensink

Former Writer

Patrick Wensink, a bestselling novelist and nonfiction writer, captivates readers with his engaging style across various...
Learn more
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