Why destroy whole mountains to mine copper? (INFOGRAPHIC)

Kyle Kim

Long gone are the days when miners looked to get rich by searching for actual nuggets of metal.

Instead, big corporate miners seek out entire mountains that have economically recoverable concentrations of a metal locked in their bedrock — (for copper, that is generally 0.5 to 1 percent). When they find it, they dismantle the mountains, crush the rock, and treat it with solvents that leach out the metal. Then they recover the metal from the solvent, using chemicals and electricity. The metals are sold to end-user; in the case of copper, this would include manufacturers of wire, engines and electronics used in consumer goods.

There are a variety of approaches. Here's how the process, called heap leaching, works at Myanmar's controversial Monywa Copper Project, near the village where Ko Ko Aung and others subsist making artisanal copper. Click on the image for a larger view.