Chervin Enoc, 10, breaks a fluorescent light bulb with a stone to take out the copper inside. He and his friends, as well as most of the 3,000 families living in their community, pick garbage for a living. Copper from electronic waste, or e-waste, fetches them the highest prices.
E-waste ends up at a Manila dump near the old Smokey Mountain, a former landfill which held as much as 2 million tons of waste. According to a study by the United Nations' Environmental Program, globally, e-waste is growing by 40 million tons a year. Up to 1.2 million used electronic goods were imported to the Philippines between 2001 and 2005.
According to environmentalists and health experts, mercury is released when a fluorescent bulb is broken. When children inhale the heavy metal, it circulates faster in their bodies because of their smaller frames. It can stunt a child's development and have dire affects for a young immune system.
Chervin's friends uncoil copper from the broken light bulbs while he starts burning loose wires, which he's collected from a day's scavenging, to expose the copper inside. Burning e-waste is increasingly commonplace in Manila's dumps, especially among children.
Chervin flips a bundle of smoldering electric wires as toxic smoke billows around him. When it rains, he says, the children huddle under an umbrella to prevent the fire from going out. In the process, the smoke is trapped in the enclosed space, exposing them even more to the noxious fumes.
Most electric wiring is coated with PVC plastic which, when burned, emits dioxins and furans, two of the most carcinogenic gases. In Chervin's community, hundreds of residents, mostly scavengers, have been diagnosed with tuberculosis, including himself and his mother.
After about 30 minutes of burning, Chervin and his friends take the copper to a nearby junk shop. Copper sells for about P300 (about $7) per kilogram, but the kids rarely find anywhere near that amount. Whatever they do earn is usually contributed to their family's income.
A junk shop worker in Manila further breaks down what is already a scrap of trash, a piece of e-waste. This junk shop used to get an assortment of plastic and e-waste, but now it's predominantly e-waste - as much as a ton every day. Filipinos themselves are contributors, with 72 million mobile phone subscribers who regularly dump old, outdated cell phones for new ones.
As the world switches from analog to digital, old CRT television sets end up in junk shops and dumps. According to Japan's National Institute for Environmental Studies, about 400,000 CRT TVs from Japan are exported to the Philippines every year.