Get over it

30 March 2016
Some of you may have seen on a recent Instagram post, about my joy of finally getting a copy of Sarah Wilson's Simpilicious from the local library. It has been on my hold list for over five months. A popular book in the north western suburbs of Melbourne for sure.

I flicked through the pages, making notes of stuff to try and reading Sarah's tidbits of wisdom. One in particular stood out to me, that I had to share, because it's good.
Get over it

In a nutshell, the quote is about eating locally and seasonally.

85% of the cookbooks I own, feature mostly recipes that call for foods from all the seasons. When I first started buying and eating with the seasons, I was frustrated because my old favourite recipes asked for vegetables or fruit available in season at various times of the year. It was hard to buy local, if I wanted to stick to the recipes 100%.

I learnt early on, that if I want to cook a recipe and don't have a vegetable because my farmers can't grow, say a tomato in winter, I will have to get over it and get creative. Use my noggin. And it's easy to do. So many vegetables and fruit can be switched out for local and in season produce.

Some culinary adventures have been a great success and others have not. It's all part of the fun, getting over things.

This mindset has filtered down into other areas of my life too.

I don't normally do random posts like this, but I just had to share Sarah's gem of wisdom. I think "getting over it" is a thing most people who go plastic free or zero waste or are making the switch to a more sustainable lifestyle face along the way. At least I did...and Sarah.

Take a #grexy challenge with me

22 March 2016
Gexy /greksi/adj. used to describe a sexy or appealing person who is also a greenie.

What makes up more of your eco-footprint than transport and home energy use combined?


A whopping 1/3 of our personal eco-footprint is made up of the food we buy. Not to mention the way our food is packaged has a wide reaching impact too. Reducing our eco-footprint is key to limiting climate change. Since most of us eat three times a day, changing what you put on your fork and how it gets there can make a world of difference.

As a proud ambassador for Sustainable Table's Give a Fork April challenge, I’ll be sharing on Instagram and Facebook, the different ways I eat, buy my food and how much I love my Victorian farmers, as I take on one of the three 30 days to #grexy challenges:

Challenge 1 - Grexy Teaser
Cut the disposable cup, carry a drink bottle and request your drinks shaken, not strawed. This means that for the month you pledge to buy your takeaway drinks in a reusable cup and say no to bottled water and straws

Challenge 2 - Halfway to Grexy 
Make meat a treat, get your veg on and commit to meat-free weekdays for a month. Show the world that eating veg is just about as grexy as it gets. Making meat a (free range) treat also tastes way better and is great for the environment too.

Challenge 3 - Drop Dead Grexy
Learn how to eat right for the planet and your health. The ultimate 30-day crash course – a perfect intro to sustainable living. Attempt to fit all your landfill waste for the month into one container and learn how to incorporate sustainable eating and living habits into your daily life, without turning it upside-down

You can join in too. Sign up with this April and take on one of their challenges to help bring sexy back to environmentalism and I will give you a glass straw + brush. Okay, not everyone, just one person. Scroll to the bottom to find out how to win a reusable glass straw. 

This 30-day challenge is just that – a challenge. It challenges your thinking and your everyday habits. It challenges you to check-in with yourself and your life and ask yourself – am I living my life according to my values? If I love the look of beautiful clean beaches, am I minimising my plastic waste? If I adore animals and only want the best for them, am I also buying ethical meat? In saying that, this challenge is also simple. It’s not designed to turn your whole life upside down and inside out in a month. It’s designed to introduce you to sustainable eating and living habits, to give you a little taster and to help you to achieve baby steps towards a bigger, more fulfilling and long-term journey. Small, easy steps. And yes, it’s designed to increase your sex appeal, big time.

  • By the end of it, you’ll be a lean mean #grexy machine. 
  • How to reduce your food and packaging waste: eg, getting your zero waste kit together, shopping waste free, starting a compost 
  • How to eat a well for the planet, choosing ethical meat and sustainable seafood: e.g. where to find it and what labels to look out for, Seasonal eating: what’s in season when 
  • How to support local farmers and producers: e.g. where to shop, finding the best shopping solution for your lifestyle 
  • Free eBooks
Take a #grexy challenge or dine out this April and show the world that taking care of the planet is way sexier than trashing it.

Sign up to one of the challenges through to be in the running to win a Glass Dharma straw + cleaning brush. Let me know in the comments below or via email, with your name/email that you signed up for one of the challenges by April 2nd 2016. I will pick a winner at random. Winner announced Wednesday 3 April 2016. CLOSED!

Composting for all types of homes

19 March 2016
When anyone asks what steps they should take to reduce waste, composting is one of my top answers. This blog post covers ten composting systems for the person with a large backyard to the apartment dweller. 

Composting became a non negotiable when I began the journey to reduce my rubbish. It was the quickest way to reduce what went into the bin each week. Over 40% of our bins are made of food waste. The combination of our garbage in plastic bags and the way landfill is configured, means that the food won't break down properly. It can take up to a year for food wrapped in plastic to decompose. Huge amounts of methane gas is created, a potent green house gases.

Our food (the normal unprocessed stuff) is designed to break down in soil. There are all types of insects, bugs and worms that will eat it up, helping return nutrients to the soil.

When food scraps are composted, they don't become waste anymore, instead they are food, for the soil. The act of composting embodies the quote “there is no garbage in nature.” It's closed-loop perfection.

Composting also renders a plastic bin liner obsolete. This is the biggest obstacle people seem to have, when wanting to give up plastic bags. If nothing wet, like food scraps, is going into a bin, the plastic bin liners are really not necessary.

Garden Composting
Great for those with a backyard or apartment complex with a shared outdoor garden.

This type of composting is what I grew up with and what I do now. It is very simple to set up. The one thing that is needed is some space. You can straight away by picking a place and begin adding food scraps, garden off cuts, leaves, paper. Or grab some planks of wood and square off a space. We created one out of a metal garbage bin, then we decided to make a larger one using scraps of wood down the side of our house (we don't really have a backyard). We still have the metal one - now it holds our finished compost before it goes onto the garden.

If you are putting your scraps right onto soil, worms will come along the party. But if your compost is contained, grab a box or worms from your local nursery or ask friends if they have any to spare.

Hardware stores also have a range of ready made bins too.

The idea is to add green and brown to the compost. The green part is the food scraps and some garden off cuts (think cut grass or weeds). Green is the nitrogen. Adding brown, the carbon, helps to balance the nitrogen. So things like paper, wood, leaves or left over mulch. It's not a necessity to get the balance right. Your scraps will break down, it will just take a little longer.

You will need to turn the compost at least once a week. So grab a shovel or pitchfork, and turn turn turn. This helps feed oxygen in. If you turn the compost (also known as aerating) it won't smell. It is best to put this type of compost in an area that does not get too much sun, to prevent everything drying out. If you notice the compost is a little dry when turning, water it until moist to keep your worms happy.

Don't think that an acre of land in required for this type of compost. We built our compost on the side of our town house in suburbs. A garden compost can be altered to fit where you have enough space (at least two to three metres).

Apartments with a shared garden space, can also get a similar option going. Speak to your body corporate to see if they would allow one on the communal garden. Some councils also provide discounts on ready made garden composting bins.
8 ways to get composting for all types of homes

Worm Farm
Perfect for those with a small outdoor area (apartment balcony or courtyard), a backyard or apartment complex with a shared outdoor garden

Worm farms are a great alternative for those with less space or who don't want too add anything other than food scraps and the occasional water. It's a simpler method, with many places selling worm farm kits or you could try making your own, using a variety of materials. Kits come with 1,000+ worms.

The brilliant thing about worm farms, is the juice produced. This is liquid gold for plants, as is the castings.

Like a compost heap, worm farms do better in a shady position. Most worm farm kits are not made of man made materials, and can heat up if in direct sunlight for a long period of time.

I have seen worm farms set up in garages, on balconies, in courtyards or along the side of the house. Check for second hand options or visit youtube to learn how to make your own.

Images from Tumbleweed
For apartment dwellers, small spaces and those who want easy access.

Composta is a wormfarm and garden in one. It uses your everyday kitchen scraps and the magic of composting worms, to produce organic fertiliser, which feeds the plants growing within the pot itself. It's clean, easy to use and does not take up much space making it perfect for apartments and units.
Bokashi Bin
For apartment dwellers, small spaces and those who want easy access.

The appeal of the Bokashi bin, is that it can be kept inside, on the kitchen counter or in a cupboard. It's 1.5 litre size means it won't take up too much room. The added bonus is, there is no smell AND it will take meat and dairy.

It's not a compost in the traditional sense, instead the food scraps are broken down by a fermentation process. As the scraps are put into the bin, users then sprinkle the Bokashi One Mix. This is full of micro-organisms that ferments the food in an airtight bucket. Like the worm farm, juice is collected at the bottom and used as fertiliser on plants.

However, a Bokashi bin will not reduce all the waste to liquid. It does need to be emptied once full. This means users need to find somewhere to drop off the compost if they don't have a garden. Otherwise, dig a hole in your garden, drop in and cover with soil.

There is also the added expense of buying bags of the Bokashi One Mix each time. 

Image from

Electric composting
For apartment dwellers, small spaces and those who want easy access.

I first discovered electric composting through Joost Bakker's zero waste cafe. An electric composting unit, needs, well electricity and food scraps..and depending on the type of machine, some type of brown part (sawdust or paper). And everything is turned into compost within a 24-48hr time frame. Most food can be added to the unit too; fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, paper, teabags excluding hard shells like oyster and scallop shells. Large bones are also discouraged. I imagine if then are used in a stock a couple times, then the bones could be fed into the unit.

Units for the home can range from a couple hundred dollars. Yes, it carries a bit of price tag, and I imagine there might be some noise. But I think for a large family or even shared by apartment dwellers in a communal space, it would be a savvy investment. The compost can be used for the garden or passed onto others. When I first discovered the wonder that is electric composting, I thought about setting one up in our garage and encouraging neighbours to donate their food scraps, then selling the compost onto a garden centre. Possible business idea?!

“Heat, agitation and airflow are applied to the unit's contents to assist the naturally occurring microbes in the starter material compost your food waste.”

The only downsides appear to be the electricity usage and the potential smell if the balance between green and brown matter is off. I could not find how much it costs to run.

There are two companies that sell the electric units, in Australia and in the US;

Closed Loop Organics have a domestic composter called CLO'ey. This machine can compost 4kg of waste in 24hrs. (based in Melbourne, Sydney and London).

Nature Mill range from 11L to 15L. (based in Ohio, US)

Community Garden Composts
For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.

Most cities and towns have a community garden. It's a place where locals from surrounding areas can rent a plot and grow their own vegetables. And most of them have a compost. You don't have to own a plot to drop your compost off either. My best advise is to contact the community garden about dropping your compost off.

Some places might be hesitant, due to people not adding the correct food scraps to the compost (for instance meat). If there are rules, they must be adhered to (It's only fair). Some places might also ask for help maintaining the compost or even a donation to go towards the community garden.

Community gardens are usually open on Saturday's. This means saving your compost up all week. Before you start worrying about smell etc, I suggest saving them in a bag in the freezer. This will stop any smell. On the day you want to drop it off, take the bag out of the freezer. The bag can be washed out and reused again and again. Who knows, you might score some free veggies from members of the community garden or get inspired to have a patch of your own.

If you are unsure about a community garden in your area, phone your local Council. They will know about all the options in your area.

For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.

ShareWaste is an online tool that helps you find someone in your neighbourhood who's willing to accept extra waste and compost it. Visit to sign up.
School Garden Compost
For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.

Some schools, especially primary schools, have gardens and composts or worm farms on site as part of the children’s curriculum. If you are a parent of a child that goes to a school with a compost, ask if you could drop off your food scraps one day per week, offering to turn it. Just keep the scraps in the freezer during the week, so they don't smell.

Friends Compost
For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.

Another way to get composting, is to approach friends that have their own compost, worm farm or even electric composting system (the Bokashi bin would be too small). Ask if you are able to bring around your food scraps. I'd happily let my friends bring around theirs (i'd ask them to give the compost a good turn). Again, the scraps can be left in the freezer until the you need to take them around.

Compost Collection
For apartment dwellers, small spaces or those not wanting to have a compost at the home.

Compost collectors is something that I came across when I was in the US last year. When I found out that there are business that charge a fee to take your food scraps and bring back a bag of compost, I wondered if there was anything like this here in Australia.

Melbourne: Compost Collectors.

Brisbane: Mallow Sustainability. They currently only take from cafes and restaurants green waste. But that could change if there is demand.

What do I keep my food scraps in, before they go to the compost?
Usually a normal ceramic food bowl from our cupboard. We collect everything into the bowl while cutting/cooking and then empty into the compost before we go to bed. Sometimes it's a mad dash in the rain.

But...the plastic?!
I know some of these options are made of plastic. It is near impossible to find plastic free solutions for smaller homes. I see it this way - if a plastic composter or worm farm is going to be used for a very long time and keep food out of landfill, then I don't see it as particularly bad decision. The worm farms and bokashi bin can be found made of recycled plastic. I'm not anti plastic, just anti the misuse...and I don't see competing as a misuse. 

Let me know in the comments below about any tips you have for composting. What can we do to make composting cool again? If you don't compost, I'd love to know why it does not appeal to you? Is it the space? Time? Smell?

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Warrnambool Unpackaged

8 March 2016
Last week I shared the story of a rural bulk co-op in Seymour, how it works and other insights into setting one up in a rural area. Today, I am sharing another rural bulk co-op, based in Warrnambool, a seaside town, three hours from Melbourne.

To read about what a bulk co-op is and also about Seymour's operation, click here.

A bulk co-op is different to a bulk food store. A bulk co-op is community run and not for profit. It is run by members, for members.

It is also an accessible alternative for rural communities to get their food in bulk and reduce packaging. If you are from a rural or regional area, are interested in reducing waste and don’t have a bulk food store near you, this post is for you.

The Warrnambool Unpackaged Food Co-op first began in 1994, over 20 years ago and continues strongly today, with 45 households taking part. It operates out of a room, donated by the Uniting Church.

They sell, rice, beans, nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, pasta, flours of different sorts, baking products, cleaning products, shampoo, conditioner, soaps, oils and much much more.

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: Warrnambool Unpackaged

Originally it was set up by the Uniting Church, so that food and other goods could be purchased collectively and without the unnecessary packaging.

Today, it's original aim still holds.

Below are the rules that were in place at the start, and remain today:
  • Food must be able to be purchased in bulk to avoid as much packaging as possible 
  • Food is purchased directly from the wholesalers to cut down on costs 
  • Members share the labour in ordering, purchasing, collecting and distributing foods 
  • Where possible foods produced in Australia are purchased 
  • When certain foods are not available from Australia, an attempt is made to purchase the products from as just a source as possible 
  • Where possible, foods or organic origin are included 
  • Where foods are available in the required quality and quantity they are purchase from local businesses 

Membership is required, with an annual fee of $12 for families and $6 for singles. These fees go towards bins, scoops, scales, printers, ink and will help cover the cost of excess stock. All goods are sold with a 10% markup to cover freight, postage, stationary, photocopying and stock losses among other things.

Members are also required to completed work on three to four monthly food pick ups throughout the year. This is conducted on a roster system, with three shifts for each pickup. Roles include setting up, helping people pickup their food and packing up.

There is a committee of up to five people, each with their own roles. These include coordinator, communications, orderer, treasurer, and stock taker. These roles are held for one year

“Unpackaged seeks to provide a low cost, environmentally friendly alternative to the mainstream supermarkets”

Pickup is on the first Friday of each month (except January) from 1.30-2.30pm and 4-7pm. They have a facebook page for those who are interested or you can turn up with a some of your own containers and let the staff know you are new.

Just like a regular bricks and mortar bulk food store, members bring their own jars, plastic containers, cloth bags (any container you want).

Staff rostered on will weigh the containers, fill with food and then weigh again, subtracting the original weight of the container (this system is called tare weight). Payment is made on the day, by either cash, cheque or bank transfer.

Alternatively, members can drop off their clearly labeled containers and return later to collect their goods.

As you can see, there is no set way to run a bulk co-op. While the Warrnambool Unpackaged co-op has similarities to the Seymour run BEAM bulk co-op, there are differences that reflect the area and people.

I got to meet and chat with some of the women that run the Warrnambool bulk food co-op. Some had been with the co-op for over a decade, while others had been there for only a year. Each of the women spoke about their unified distaste for over packaged food. Being apart of a bulk co-op puts the power back into their own hands and wallets. They also spoke of the fun they have together, and friendships built through the co-op. One lady said that it was nice to be aligned with a group of people had the same views when it came to better food choices for herself, her family and her environment. They also spoke of the money they saved, too.

I asked if they ever felt like their required shifts were hard work or cumbersome, my answer came with laughter and a shake of the head. To them, it was a chance to meet up with friends.

While I could not get an answer on how the original group came together 22 years ago, I brainstormed some ways, people who want to start up their own bulk co-op, could meet like minded people in their own rural community.

  • Put a notice in the local paper 
  • Tack a notice up outside a popular community centre or notice board 
  • Talk with friends and family about your desire to start up a bulk co-op 
  • Write a letter to the editor of the local paper or 
  • Call up your paper, ask a local journalist to write a story about over packaged food, and what can be done in the community to combat it 

It does take a group of individuals to come together for a bulk co-op up to get up and running. But the benefits seem to go beyond just the reduction of packaging and waste. So while some rural areas might not get to see a bulk food store come to life where they live, there is every chance a bulk co-op can work, thrive and be part of the community for a very long time.

I'd love to know of other bulk co-ops that operate in rural locations around Victoria and parts of Australia. Let me know in the comments below. If you are interested in starting one in your area, I encourage you to get in touch with either the Warrnambool or Seymour groups, as I know they would be happy to share how to get one up and running. 

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: BEAM Bulk Food Scheme

1 March 2016
If you are from a rural or regional area, are interested in reducing waste and don’t have a bulk food store near you, this post is for you.

Bulk food stores are the go-to for living plastic free and zero waste lifestyles. These shops are more easily found in cities and less in rural areas.

But, location has not stopped passionate individuals coming together in rural areas to reduce their need for over packaged food. This week I am going to share with you different groups, from different areas of Victoria, that have created bulk co-ops. They will explain how they did it, while sharing issues and insights. Interviewing these groups has reminded me, that we as consumers can choose the way we shop. We do have the power.

Essentially, a co-op is a group of people who voluntarily work together through a fairly run business.

These co-ops function the same way a regular bricks and mortar bulk store works. It just happens to operate out of someones space or public room and run by volunteers. Memberships are often required, meetings are held and decisions made by the group for the group.

A bulk food co-op is a way for people to come together, buy staple foods in larger quantities, at an affordable price too. It is a great way for rural communities to reduce their packaging. 

Today I have BEAM Bulk Food Scheme, from Seymour in Northern Victoria (about 1 hour north of Melbourne), explaining how a bulk food co-op works. 

Rural Bulk Food Co-Op's: BEAM Bulk Food Scheme

What is the BEAM Bulk Food Scheme? How long has it been in operation? Why was it started?

The BEAM Bulk Food Scheme (BBFS) commenced in 2013 at the instigation of a group of members of BEAM Mitchell Environment Group, all with an interest in sourcing local, ethically produced and organic/biodynamic foods; avoiding the big supermarkets; and reducing packaging/waste.

The Scheme was one of two ‘projects’ identified at a special meeting of about 15 BEAM committee and general members held in October 2012. The meeting was inspired by the AGM presentation by David Holmgren which highlighted issues of food security within the context of climate change and peak oil, and focussed on the importance of sourcing locally grown and produced food. Initially the scheme ran for a 12 month trial, which aimed to explore the various systems on offer for ordering and purchasing, and identify the level of interest in the community.

Issues such as insurance coverage for participants were also explored during this period. At the end of the 12 months, a report was presented to the committee of BEAM, recommending that the scheme continue and identifying how BEAM could support an ongoing scheme. BEAM continues to auspice and support the scheme, in conjunction with the food eXchange.

The Bulk Food Scheme aims to obtain Australian organic (including bio-dynamic) and ethically produced foods at an affordable cost. The objectives are to:

  • Obtain better quality food direct from wholesalers and producers
  • Reduce packaging & “food miles”
  • Save time and feed your family for less
  • Contribute to community resilience by building local food security
  • Meet other like-minded people and share knowledge about local foods, markets, recipes and other food-related activities
  • Reduce reliance on the big supermarkets

How does it work?

The Scheme administrator, Cynthia Lim from the food eXchange, put a lot of effort in the first 12 months to developing relationships with mostly Victorian food producers, so we can obtain food directly from them and bypass wholesalers. Suppliers include Broken River Ingredients, which produce flours and puffed grain products in Benalla; Burrum Biodynamics, which produce BD legumes in NW Victoria; and Powlett Hill which produces BD spelt pasta in Western Victoria near Ballarat. We also obtain olive oil from Seymour, where the BBFS is based, honey from nearby Broadford and eggs from a local free range farm. Other goods are sourced from a foods wholesaler in Melbourne.

Orders are made quarterly, with members completing an Excel spreadsheet developed by the administrator. Following collation of individual orders, and ordering of the goods, invoices are sent out to all participants and must be pre-paid prior to the goods arriving. There is a four week turnaround from orders opening to order collection, with 2 weeks to submit order forms, and 2 weeks to order in the goods. Freight charges are calculated according to the amount of the order, and a levy is paid by all participants to ensure the scheme is successful and ongoing.

Order dividing up/collection day is a joint effort, with all participants expected to be involved. Those who can't help out on the day pay a higher levy on their order. Over time we have refined our systems so that dividing up day runs as smoothly as possible. This includes printed copies of all orders, setting up a number of weighing stations, and a dedicated person crossing off the lists as the orders are filled.

Do people bring their own bags or containers for reuse?

Yes, this is an essential part of the scheme. Everyone supplies their own containers or bags, even if they can't attend on dividing up day- it's their responsibility to ensure they are ready on the day.

Of course it's sometimes hard to judge how many or what size containers you need but our participants are always willing to help each other out by sharing containers or bags.

What are the number of members? Can they request new items be added?

We get approx 12-15 orders per quarter. Some of these orders are from groups of people eg families who live close by, and so can be very large. We try to respond to members requests for new items, but we maintain a commitment to buying local or Australian products first and foremost, then organic/BD if possible.

How many people work or volunteer to run the the food scheme?

We have one paid administrator, and two other people involved in the BBFS committee to assist with identifying new products and; contacting suppliers, maintaining the BBFS facebook page, updating the BEAM website, and generally advertising the scheme throughout the area. All participants are expected to help out with dividing up day wherever possible.

What would be the process to start one up in a community?

We would suggest starting with a meeting of interested people, to explore ideas and gauge the priorities of the people who will be buying from the scheme.

Is your first priority eliminating/reducing packaging, or do you want to access all organic products? Do you have the space and capacity to order in true bulk or will you just be bulk buying small packets? Is there commitment from participants to be hands on and help reduce costs? Or are people willing to pay more for the convenience of having the products packed for them?

Other questions to think about are, how often can the orders be made? How easily can you access goods eg is there a courier able to collect and deliver the goods for a reasonable price?

Were there any hiccups encountered in the first year? or can you share any lessons learnt from running a co-op?

The main issues we dealt with in the first year were cash flow issues and questions around insurance coverage- for both the dividing up day (we lift a lot of heavy bags!) and to cover faulty/spoilt products. At the end of the first year we requested that BEAM dedicate an amount of money to a cash float and $2000 was allocated for the purpose.

This allows us to pay suppliers prior to invoicing participants, which has helped avoid unnecessary refunds when suppliers are unable to supply a product that was ordered. By sticking to non-perishable foods and products we are able to provide insurance coverage to the scheme through BEAM's insurance.

What does the co-op hope to do in the future?

We hope to provide access to more local foods and support more producers and suppliers throughout Victoria. We are also keen to help other towns/areas/groups set up their own bulk buying schemes.

If someone is interested in shopping with BEAM Bulk Food Scheme, what do they need to know?

The best place to start is the BEAM website, where we have posted heaps of useful information about how the scheme works and how to prepare for bulk ordering. We also post the quarterly order form on this page. The BEAM Bulk Food Scheme facebook page also keeps people updated. For further information, people can contact the administrator Cynthia Lim on

I hope you enjoyed this interview with the crew from BEAM Bulk Food Scheme. I have another insight into rural bulk food co-op's from Warrnambool coming up too. If you know of another bulk co-op from rural Victoria, please let me know, as I'd love to feature them on the blog and show that bulk shopping is not just for us city folk. 
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