How I switched to cloth – Susmitha Subbaraju

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

We received a call yesterday at the Krya office, which made me understand the depth of the pot we have begun to stir with our posts on sustainable menstruation.

An example of one of these thoughts / queries was a phone call I received yesterday at the Krya office. The lady who called was both a Krya consumer and someone who reads our blog regularly. Inspired by the articles, thought-starters and conversations we have been having around reusable products, she called to ask me if she should take the leap and switch to reusable cloth napkins.

Ms.A told me that she had been thinking about switching to cloth for the last 2 years, and had been following the work of Ecofemme who we had posted yesterday about. But she continued to be hesitant about making the switch.

“I have heavy flow. Do you think using these pads will leave stains on my clothing”, she asked. When countered with my explanation of several layers of cloth and a leak proof barrier, she voiced another concern. “Is it going to be very difficult to wash”? She asked. A ready quip came to my mind about how with the Krya detergent it was going to be easy. But I brushed that aside, and approached her question with more seriousness, and asked myself, if I too had felt that when I switched.

And yes, I had. Many of us grew up hearing stories of our mothers using cloth “rags” to manage their menstruation. My mother grew up in a home where menstruating women were supposed to confine themselves to a particular room designated specifically for that purpose. And with 4 sisters, “the room” was pretty much always occupied.

5. african period picasso

Menstrual cloth could not be dried along with other people’s clothes and had to be taken down before regular laundry was dried. This meant that several times, the menstrual cloth would be dried in the same room they were confined to. If older women were also confined, this space would also be the space where they cooked food for themselves, as they were not allowed to enter the kitchen.
These stories became a part of my psyche. Leading me to associate the worst with menstrual cloth. Stories of confinement. Of a lack of space. Of being considered impure. Of blood stained rags being hung inside a room, And of the shame of everyone knowing you were menstruating. All of this got enmeshed in my head with the association of cloth.

The advertising that I saw when I was growing up, with the entry of MNCs into India also worked on this long held menstruation story and the association with cloth. “Cloth is for curtains” said the ad, as they showed women coming out of the taboos of menstruation and bravely switching to disposables.

I carried these images in my head. And these images, of redemption were what propelled me to the world of disposables.

Which is why for new entrants like myself into the world of cloth napkins, the difference comes as such a shock. Far from my images of stained, ragged, smelly cloth rags, today’s modern day cloth napkins are a work of art. They borrow several design cues from disposables and many of them come fitted with wings and cut in the shape designed to make menstruation comfortable. These cloth napkins resemble nothing that my feverish imagination conjured up when I was told my mother and my aunts’ menstruation stories.

These cloth napkins are different. Beautiful, sleek, comfortable. Pretty. Yes they offer the comfort that cloth offered my mother’s generation. With much more sturdiness, ease of washing and caring and comfort of use.

My mind spun back to the present as I spoke to my consumer. I described the construction of a modern cloth napkin. Described how easy it was to take care of, and why it worked. Reassured, she said thank you and promised me she would try one out.

As I sat down to think about how the series should continue, I realised many more people like me (before I made the switch) and Ms.A would continue to hold apprehensions of cloth. With the associations that we collectively held.

And the only way to change these associations was to offer the story of another switch. Another perspective of someone who transitioned into sustainable menstrual products. And loved her switch.

So here is Susmitha’s story.

About Susmitha:

Susmitha is a legend in the Indian vegan community. So much so that a trip to Bangalore, where she lives, would be incomplete for most vegans without having the opportunity to meet her and speak to her.

1. the vegan monsterSusmitha is a jewellery artist and a vegan food blogger. She makes miniature sculptures of very cool vegan monsters like the “Veganosaurus” after whom she has named her food blog.

Her vegan food creations are carefully photographed and displayed to the rest of the world as part of what I could best describe as an “affirmative action series” she has started with other food bloggers called “Vegan temptivism”. Her creations showcase the inventiveness and deliciousness that is possible when you elevate cuisine to an art form, as only a Vegan temptivist blogger can.

4. Vegan hazelnut butter choc ice cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When one of my favourite restaurants, Carrots , India’s first vegan and vegan owned restaurant started by Krishna Shastry decided to join forces with Susmitha, every single one of us vegans clapped. And then salivated thinking of how much yummier Carrots food was going to get with Susmitha’s talent added to the arsenal.

It should come as no surprise, given Susmitha’s background that she is an outspoken vegan and environmental activist. She is an avid kitchen gardener, growing many of the micro greens that go into her temptivist fare. And of course, we are proud to share that she is a Krya consumer as well.

Susmitha made the switch to cloth sanitary napkins about 6 years ago. And here is her story.

I first heard about reusable cloth napkins online in my Vegan etsy group.

Everyone was raving about how cool they were and how comfortable they felt, and I was curious to know more about cloth napkins. The idea of using cloth to manage my menstruation actually appealed to me instantly and I started to read more about it online.

When I came across my first cloth napkin brand, I fell in love with the pads.

My researches led me to an etsy seller based in Canada, called Naturally Hip. Her cloth pads were bright, and colourful with happy prints. And her pads looked very thick and comfortable, so I bought a few for myself.

Once I started using them I loved them. And my sister who saw my pads also fell in love and asked me to source more for her – which was a pleasant surprise for me because my Sister was a staunch disposables user and I never thought she would be tempted into switching to cloth.

I transitioned very quickly into cloth after my initial trial.

As soon as I began using cloth pads, I was hooked. I loved how they made me feel with their bright, happy colours and how soft and comfortable the pads felt. I did not realise how uncomfortable disposables were, until I shifted to cloth and saw how comfortable I could feel during my periods.

I had fed myself the marketing messages that I had seen about disposables about how they were thinner, and did not leak, etc. But when I switched I realised how plasticky they would feel, and how they would chafe once I had worn them for a couple of days.

In fact, when I switched to cloth, I was so comfortable that many times I actually forgot I was wearing pads!

Washing menstrual blood did not faze me.

When we were younger and used to use wood pulp napkins, my Mother had taught my sister and myself to rinse out our disposable napkins before wrapping them to throw away in the trash. She had always asked us to be sensitive about this and ingrained in us the need to treat the workers who handle our waste with care.

So we actually grew up rinsing our disposable napkins. Taking care of our menstrual blood was our responsibility, so I had no squeamishness associated with this.

But as I grew up wood pulp napkins began to get replaced in popularity with gel based napkins. Once I switched to gel based disposables, I slowly stopped rinsing my napkins (and it was no longer possible).

But when I switched back to cloth, my years of practice in this helped.

Note from Krya: as Susmitha described this to me, I was transported back in time to my childhood, and remembered my Mother taught me to do the same thing. I was also asked not to carelessly dispose my soiled napkin where someone else would have to handle it or an unsuspecting animal would come across it. So I too rinsed my wood pulp disposable before throwing it away.

Of course, with the advent of gel based napkins, this sensible and sensitive practice ceased to exist as it was no longer possible to continue to do this.

But yes, I did have one apprehension when I switched to cloth napkins.

I was concerned about how I would handle travelling out of my home when using a cloth napkin. So I started gently. I started by using cloth napkins at home and disposable napkins when I was out of the house or travelling.

As time went by and I grew comfortable with using cloth napkins, I began reducing my use of disposables. Now I use only cloth completely even when I go to work or travel on holidays. With a few adjustments I have easily managed to incorporate cloth completely into my lifestyle.

2. Vegan food is awesome

As long as you have access to a private bathroom, any woman can use cloth napkins wherever they are. They are extremely easy to launder and take care of.

I find myself handling my periods much better after switching to cloth.

I find that I am more relaxed and comfortable which explains why I have much less discomfort and symptoms of PMS (although all of that had already reduced when I went vegan). My flow seems more even and everything feels much much better.

I think women should choose cloth napkins in order to treat themselves better during their time of the month.

I’ve actually recommended switching to cloth napkins to all my girlfriends. And while I understand there is a strong environmental and health reason to do so, I never speak about these. I ask them to switch just to see how good they can feel during their periods.

The comfort and the way cloth pads make you feel so outweigh any minor changes in convenience. And with effort you can easily make these work well for you and adopt them into your lifestyle.

Yes washing and caring for your cloth napkins does involve some washing and drying in your bathroom, which may weird out some people.

However I think that women should go ahead and choose products that make them feel good and help them ease any discomfort they feel during their periods. With all that we have to deal with at this time, I don’t think it is fair to expect us to have to deal with anyone else’s discomfort as well.

My husband has been extremely supportive about my switch given how environmentally aware he is as well (Milesh, Susmitha’s husband , is also a vegan and a committed environmental activist in Bangalore).

But even if he had not been, I would have still gone ahead and chosen to use cloth pads because they are good for me. And I guess he would have just come around to it eventually.

I have a simple washing process for my pads.

I wash them once every day. Until then I leave them to soak in cold water, which helps remove the menstrual blood. Once I get around to washing them, I simply rinse out the menstrual blood and then load them into my machine with my other clothes. I run a hot water wash cycle and then dry them with the rest of my clothes.

Cared for this way, my pads are extremely hygienic, wear well, and have worked very well for me.

So if you are a woman reading this, and would like some advice on how to make the switch, I would ask you to switch to cloth pads and have a truly happy period. Enjoy!

Thank you for that happy, rousing and inspirational piece Susmitha.

If you need more convincing, and would like to read more about the problems of disposables, start here: 

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series:this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

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Walking the talk – a conversation with Eco Femme

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

I first experienced reusable sanitary napkins in 2012. We were new parents keen on raising a green, sustainable baby. Somewhere in the middle of the night when I was flushing poop out of a reusable cloth diaper and congratulating myself on the disposable diaper I had just saved, I asked myself why I could not make the shift myself to reusable cloth pads.

It certainly had to be easier to adopt compared to a cloth diaper, I figured.

My searches online led me Kathy Walking and Eco femme. After several email exchanges to allay my concerns, I bought myself a few of Eco Femme’s pads. When I tried them out the first time, I could not believe how good they felt compared to a disposable pad. Like most disposable users, I did not know things could actually get better and was mentally conditioned to accept discomfort as a part of menstruation.

With time, my understanding of my body and my menstrual cycle has deepened thanks to the cloth pads I use, many of which are courtesy Eco Femme’s pioneering work in India.

The genesis of Eco Femme

Kathy Walking became a cloth pad user, 12 years ago, when she moved to India to become a part of Auroville. In the absence of a waste collection system, she had dig pits herself to bury soiled napkins. This deep connection with her complete cycle (from use to disposal) led to her exploration of reusable cloth pads. Kathy then started to create her own cloth pads for herself and her friends at Auroville.

As Kathy’s business grew, she began working with Auroville Village Action group to understand how local women managed their menstruation. This exploration led to the formation of the eco Femme project, which drew from Kathy’s designs and her existing cloth napkin business, and added a strong social component of women’s empowerment integrated with rural development.

Eco femme today consists of a 12 member team, including members from 7 Self help groups from Auroville village Action group. The eco Femme Project started in 2010, and is a proudly social enterprise, following fair trade principles with its employees and tailors, and spreading the message of safe and sustainable menstrual management among both urban and rural women.

1. Eco femme at work

 

Working along with Kathy is the energetic Jessamijn, who has answered most of my emails and queries for this post. Jessamijn also has a deep connection with sustainable menstruation: her mother had stitched washable menstrual pads from old towels for the women living in her neighbourhood in Sumba, Indonesia!

Over to Kathy and Jessamijn for the post.  To improve clarity and readability, Jessamijn & Kathy have answered our queries in the first person for this interview.

Washable cloth pads are beautiful…

They touch on so many aspects (psychological, social, economic and environmental) of life of women around the world. As a social enterprise we have the freedom to work in an integral manner on the (largely) taboo subject of menstruation, and reach out to women who do not have access to information and products to manage their menstruation. For example, we raise awareness among school girls in government schools and gift them pads (donated by international pad users) through our educational programs

2. Eco feme pads

Washable cloth pads are also better for your body…

Washable cloth pads are made of cotton and are (with appropriate care) better for your body than the plastics (primarily) of which disposable pads are made. Many women and girls get irritations and infections from disposable pads, also because plastics generate more heat than cotton. The bleaches used for disposable pads generate dioxins which are known to be carcinogenic.

And of course, washable pads are so much kinder on the environment and the people who manage our waste

Cloth pads generate less waste as they last at least 75 washes. Disposable pads are use & throw, and take approx. 500 yrs to decompose! Burning, land fill and littering of pads result in tremendous air and ground water pollution which evidently also influences our health. Disposable pads also impact the lives and health of people working in waste. For example, disposables flushed down in toilets cause sewages to block. Unblocking these systems is done by people who immerse their bodies into the sludge. Using cloth pads also helps to dignify their lives!

6. Kathy with arundathiyars

The picture to the left shows Kathy at a meeting with conservancy workers of the Arunthathiyar community. Many women from this community handle bio medical waste like used sanitary napkins without any protective gear. They commonly suffer from infection related to the handling of this waste – they risk being infected from blood borne pathogens from soiled sanitary napkins apart from possible infections micro organisms like E Coli, HIV and staphylococcus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cloth pads are tested for quality and are pre cut for consistency

Eco Femme pads are made of cotton flannel on the top and inside for comfort and absorbency, leak proof laminated cotton is used at the bottom to prevent leakages. These fabrics are pre-cut to provide consistency.

At our partner-NGO, Auroville Village Action Group, 24 women from related self help groups have learnt advanced stitching; they stitch Eco Femme’s pads (7 full time jobs) as well as other products. This provides those living wages and aims to enhance their personal development. The final pads undergo two rounds of quality control, once at the tailoring site and a second time at Eco Femme’s office before it journeys to our customers.

5. Eco femme pads production

The final pads that we ship out to customers and retail partners are comfortable, absorbent, easy to wash, leak proof and beautiful: pads to be proud of!

We guarantee that our pads will last for atleast 75 washes.

We have a wide range of pads for different needs: panty liners, day pads, day pad plus and night pads for light to heavy and night flow. Each size is similar to disposable equivalents in terms of absorbency/duration.

 

 

 

The biggest hurdle to adopting a cloth pad appears to be around its care

There are many big myths but we very often hear people say that washing pads seems much work, which it really isn’t. When you soak them in cold water, the washing is a quick job.

Also, the use of disposables is no less work. They use up a lot of natural resources and someone has to dispose them. If you put them in a landfill, you are feeding plastic to the soil. If you burn them, you are polluting the air. 

So actually if you think about it, washables are overall much less work.

 

A reusable pad works as well as, sometimes better than a disposable pad

You can use a washable pad as long as (or slightly longer than) a disposable plastic napkin before changing to the next.  Because it is made of cotton (instead of plastic) the pad is not hot and sticky. You fasten the buttons on the wings of the pad under your underwear, which makes the pad stay in place and the leak proof layer gives us that bit of security that we often want to have.

 

We have replaced 4 million disposable products (through our sold and donated pads) already through our work.

We are growing steadily and it is inspiring to us that this growth is more and more taking place in India. Our focus is Menstruation and we will continue to work in menstrual education and providing alternative menstrual products.

Our education efforts revolve around opening up conversations around menstruation for women & girls, that is respectful of culture while providing a safe space for women to question their menstrual experience, social restrictions and product choice. These conversations build trust and community, and they are vital for reproductive health, as many of the women we work with do not have access to regular checkups, and are unaware of their body’s natural biological functions, i.e. what is considered normal or healthful and what is cause to seek medical attention.

Eco Femme team educating and inspiring women to open up on menstruation

We are working on a module based educational curriculum which can be applied to different contexts and settings. As of April 2013 we have modules that focus on how to work with uneducated adolescent girls and women as well as a module targeting educated young women that explores linkages between menstrual products and health, environment and media – this module has even been adapted for use on college campuses in countries like USA and UK. In the coming year, we plan to develop more modules including how to work with adolescent boys and plan to make this body of knowledge available through training of trainers programs from end of 2014. 

 

3. Period talk young girls

At the same time we are also developing products that are connected, such as washable nappies for babies – so keep tuned!

Can everyone afford reusable pads? We ask, can people afford to ignore reusables?

We often do not realise how much we are spending on disposables. I suggest for everyone to keep track of that and do the math yourself. On an average -given with 75 washes per pad (equivalent to 4 yrs), using a total of 8- your payback time is 2 yrs.

But yes, reusables demand a longer time frame. You don’t think about tomorrow but of the years ahead. Apart from a financial benefit, you need to ask yourself what it means to have the possibility to make a change by choosing an environmentally-friendly and healthy product?

 

With our Pad for Pad program we supply pads that are donated by international customers to girls in government schools; this is free of cost to them. We further offer pads through NGO/institutions/Self Help Groups at a subsidised price (only the cost of material and stitching) for giving access to those women who cannot afford the pads against the commercial prices. If women are willing to use internal products, a menstrual cup is also a great option to explore:  they are a very affordable, health and environment-friendly option too.

 

Krya thanks Kathy & Jessamijn, and the whole team at Eco Femme for the great work they do, for spending their time in answering our questions and for kindly gifting us a cloth pad starter kit for the Krya giveaway.

 

Support Eco Femme’s work:

Please show your support for Eco Femme’s work in menstrual education & sustainable menstrual management by “liking” their Facebook page and inviting your friends and family to this post and their page.

If you would like to experience Eco Femme’s natural reusable pads for yourself, please read more about the variants available on http://ecofemme.org/product/premium-pads/ . Once you have decided what you would like to buy, please visit : www.ecofemme.org/buy for online shopping options or addresses close to you. Eco Femme pads are available in 15 countries around the world, including India, from brick and mortar as well as online stores.

If you need more convincing, and would like to read more about the problems of disposables, start here: 

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

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11.5 reasons to choose organic – and why we do

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Curious consumers and retailers often ask us why we choose to use only certified organic ingredients in our products. The debate on using organic ingredients in our food is of course far less today.

We have heard and read enough about the dubious effects of pesticides, and fertilisers on our food. We have seen examples of the devastating effects on human beings and the environment whenever synthetic substances are sprayed on our food.

No one I speak to today debates the merit of organic food – there continues to be some murmurs on its availability, perceived premium pricing and some musings on whether it has been priced to target an elite crowd.

The debate on using organic non-food products is only just beginning in India. For one, the certification standards for non food products are less clear. It is easily possible to certify a potato which has been  grown using organic methods. But certifying a detergent, or a cosmetic product that uses organic ingredients is less clear. In my research I have found these standards often to be surprisingly lax, as certifiers struggle to balance the known (how an organic ingredient is grown), with the unknown (using other chemical additives in combination with these natural ingredients).

A longer post on certifying organic non-food products is part of my blog list, and is something I would like to write about soon. But until then, I would simply like to state that we have given this a great deal of thought at Krya, and opted for the easier / more difficult route.

All our products so far and in pipeline products use upto 98% certified organic ingredients. The balance 2 – 3% is usually food grade dessicants which are allowed under the most stringent organic certification standards. By following a unique, chemical and water free manufacturing and product creation process, our non-food products meet our own, very stringent standards for what constitutes an organic product.

But that still doesn’t answer the question this blog post started with. Why choose organic at all? Isn’t natural just good enough?

To answer this question, and the many questions we continue to hear on choosing organic food, I’ve put together a presentation on the 11 and a half reasons We choose organic ingredients for the products we create at Krya and in our home for our family.

Through this post, I hope to inspire more heated enquiry on what goes into your plate, and on and in your body. Perhaps you too, like me, will decide to step off the cliff and dive into the delicious, nourishing, and sustainable world of organic food and products.

Here’s the link: http://www.slideshare.net/kryagoodies/115-reasons-why-krya-and-we-are-organic-29282266

As always, do read, reflect and drop in your comments.

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A Convenient Diaper

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Last fortnight we looked at the horrors of disposable diapers for the baby and mother earth.

A quick summary of the inconvenient facts are:

Krya Infographic 3 - disposable diapers and pulp and crude oil

 

and

Krya Infographic 4 - dangers from disposable diapers

 

For the longer version, please read the original blog post here.

For those struck with a mixture of guilt and hopelessness, hope still waits, in the form of cloth diapers, both ancient and modern.

In a cradle to grave study sponsored by the National Association of Diaper Services (U.S), it was found that disposable diapers produce seven times more solid waste when discarded and three times more solid waste during the manufacturing process, when compared modern cloth diapers (MCD).

When MCDs are used for the baby, solid waste (poop) is flushed down the toilet and not dumped in a landfill, waste is being sent down the right channel preventing water and earth contamination.

The health benefits for a baby put on cloth diapers are numerous.

Cloth diapering depends only on the absorbency of the material used to contain the baby’s waste output and not on uninvestigated, potentially hazardous substances like Sodium Polyacrylate ( the super absorbent polymer , SAP) used in disposable diapers.

Cloth diapers are said to facilitate early toilet training as compared to disposables by achieving the right balance between keeping the baby dry and letting him / her know when it is time to change the diaper. Unlike a disposable, a cloth diaper is never completely dry when full. The feeling of dampness alerts the baby, who becomes sensitized to the idea of a diaper change,

By avoiding all the hazardous substances that go into a disposable diaper which can trigger contact dermatitis and rashes and by alerting the baby’s caregiver to a nappy change, cloth diapered babies are in general less rash prone.

Continue reading “A Convenient Diaper”

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Mosquito Monogatari.

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I live in mosquito land.

Every monsoon evening, clouds of DDT swirl around the air sprayed diligently by the corporation workers to stem the mosquito population. Every store I go to has a new product being launched that guarantees a reduction in mosquitoes. Electric bats are used by the security folks in every apartment complex, to nuke the mosquitoes which bite them in their lonely sojourn at night.

It does not surprise me that one of the most popular queries received at Krya is a fervent demand for a natural mosquito repellent product. I get this from both consumers and retailers who are alarmed and appalled by the toxic load around their homes, especially of an insecticide nature.

And alarmed we should be.

DDT and DEET are the 2 primary chemical weapons of choice in our war against mosquitoes. DDT is used by city corporations in India, especially in Chennai as a mass fumigant to spray over large dense urban settlements and on stagnant urban water bodies with a hope to kill mosquitoes. It is not used inside homes or applied on the skin.

DEET is used inside homes in synthetic mosquito repellent products like coils and mats.

1.      DDT ( Dangerous, Don’t Touch)

DDT is an insecticide, first synthesized in 1874 was used to control malaria and typhus during the Second World War, after its insecticidal properties were discovered by Pauly Mueller, the Swiss chemist who received a Nobel Prize for this work.

After the world war ended companies that manufactured DDT were forced to find a use for it in peacetime. DDT was re-purposed as an broad spectrum insecticide with two main applications

1) Agriculture and

2) Mosquito control.

DDT usage skyrocketed. Shortly however, scientists in the U.S started expressing concerns about the possible problems associated with the use of DDT.

In 1962, Rachael Carson’s seminal environmental book, “the Silent Spring”, which documented evidence against the indiscriminate use of pesticides, especially DDT, sounded the death knell for DDT

The overwhelming public reaction to the “Silent spring”, led to the beginning of the environmental movement and a widespread outcry which finally led to the U.S government banning the use of DDT in 1972. However, by this time the U.S had already used close to 1.3 million pounds of DDT.

Why are we talking about DDT today, if it was banned in the U.S in 1972?

Continue reading “Mosquito Monogatari.”

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What lies beneath – digging in the world’s trash cans: Part 1

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A graphic photo in The Hindu recently inspired this two part blog post.

As we walk around Chennai, we often have to navigate mounds of garbage. Garbage has a mysterious way of reappearing in double its size after it has been hauled away just a night before, and I cannot help being intrigued by the contents of trash.

Even protected areas like the bio-diverse IIT Madras campus suffer from the garbage problem. A week back on one of our now frequent walks in the IIT campus, Srini and I came across a couple of beautiful spotted deer busily nosing around old discarded containers of junk food. As we gently chased away the deer (who looked most grieved) and safely disposed the junk food container; we began talking about Chennai’s trash cans, and what ails them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some digging (this time on the internet) threw up very interesting facts and figures.

There are many ways to look at the trash data. The simplest – how much trash (or solid waste) does each country generate on an average?

It comes as no surprise that the average US citizen is nearly at the head of the pack; trashing nearly 2 Kg of solid waste every day compared to urban Indians who generate 600 grams of waste every day.

Before we begin to pat ourselves on the back, consider this: In just the last 10 years Indians have doubled their trash generation from 34 million tonnes per year to 68 million tons per year.

 Which lead me to the question; just what are we, the urban Indians, throwing out of our homes?

All of us, no matter where we live, generate 4 categories of trash

  1. Compostable waste – Organic food peels, trimmings, dried leaves, leftover food, etc that can be composted to give rich , nutritious soil
  2. Re-cyclable waste – Paper, plastic packaging, glass, metals, aluminium foil, etc which, if cleaned and processed properly could be re-used. Certain materials like aluminium foil have a 95% recovery / recycling rate if cleaned properly. Recyclable waste is a category that is only potentially recyclable – by mixing them with other kinds of waste, it makes them difficult to separate, clean and process to re-use.
  3. Partially recyclable / re-coverable waste – Most of the E-waste we generate from chargers, to used batteries and other electronic goods falls into this category. If separated and recycled properly, a small –moderate portion of the raw materials that go into the making of these goods can be recovered like metals and precious metals. However, the portion of material that can be recovered is small, the process is potentially toxic and hazardous, and the balance of the material goes waste.
  4. Re-usable material – Due to rapid urbanisation, every city in India is now in the midst of a construction spree. All the construction debris that is generated (sand, cement, iron and steel girders bricks) if stored separately can be re-used in other construction activity.

Every country today has a problem of excess trash – we have run out of space to store our garbage, and cannot get rid of it in any safe, non-toxic way. Different countries depending on the composition of their solid waste have different strategies to tackle the problem.

A Comparison of Solid waste composition between the US & India:

The U.S. generates the highest volume of solid waste in the world and the highest per capita waste in the world. But because of the nature of waste they generate, they also have a  high level of efficiency in their waste reduction programmes.

The solid waste composition of each household is very high in recyclable waste like paper and plastic packaging. While U.S. per capita waste per year has increased, the recycling rate has also increased.

Handling food waste in the U.S. still remains an issue – a very small percent of it is currently being composted.

Urban India presents a very different picture:

The biggest portion of India’s waste is actually compostable material, followed by re-usable material.

The addition of food waste makes the solid waste we generate messy and problematic. Most food waste contains a lot of moisture, which makes other materials like paper and plastic less recyclable.

Composting does take place in India at the Municipal corporation level, but only 3% of the organic matter generated by us is composted formally.

Of this percentage which is composted, most of the organic matter had not been separated from the debris and recyclable material, bringing down the effectiveness of compost – As a result of lack of source segregation, of the 3% of the organic material that is composted, only 7%of this is converted into compost – which is a shockingly low 0.21% of all waste generated.

Further, this measly 0.21% compost, because of the lack of source segregation, it is often found to be high in heavy metals, making it unusable for agriculture.

So what happens, you may ask, to the waste now that it is not composted, or segregated?

Most of our urban waste goes to landfills such as these where it just sits there for eternity, or gets burned, leading to a high amount of pollution generated and lethal toxins released into the air.

In Chennai, every single person is responsible for nearly 200 Kg of solid waste per year, which in turn ends up in the landfills which use up 550 acres in Chennai. The Chennai Corporation estimates that if we do not change our ways, these 550 acres will get exhausted by 2015. To put this in perspective, this landfill is roughly the size of the IIT madras campus, piled high with waste!

The Solutions

At the end of this rather long discussion, it can be exhausting to contemplate the magnitude of the problem before us, but there is good news.

As mentioned earlier, In the US, the EPA has managed to take back nearly 34% of re-cyclable paper and plastic from their landfills. This requires diligent recycling of paper and plastic by the citizens.

We too can help make a solid difference in India, by examining and changing our behaviour.

A. Reducing organic waste : reduce what gets thrown out

The rather massive quantity of food waste that is getting thrown out in India today suggests two issues:

1) We seem to be buying more food / vegetables / fruits than we can consume and

2) We are throwing away the stuff that rots / what we cannot eat.

So the first step to reducing the landfill mess is to be careful about estimating and buying the food you need.

Having analysed my garbage, I have concluded that one of the big problems in our home is over buying and improper storage. Frequent power outages are causing the food in the fridge to rot faster and I am forced to throw away a portion of my fruits and vegetables without eating them.

Since we only buy organic fruits and vegetables, which are not so readily available, I buy them in bulk once a week. This sometimes leads to excess buying and I am now trying hard to estimate exactly what I need, and avoid wastage.

B. Reducing organic waste: over processing of fresh food

The other often ignored part in food waste over processing. When you eat food whole, no trimmings go to the landfill. For e.g.: the head of the tomato is often sliced out for aesthetic reasons and discarded – you lose out on both nutrition and contribute to a landfill. At my home, I eat the leaves of carrots and beets and most other vegetables too, stalk and all – brilliant nutrition and landfill saved.

Here are some examples of trimmings that you could eat instead of discarding: peels (carrots, potatoes, bottle gourd, cucumber), stalks and greens (carrots, beets), heads (tomatoes, bottle gourd) .

C.  Source Segregation :  Separating waste into compostable /recyclable / re-usable

The default option in Indian homes today is a single kitchen waste bin in which all biodegradable and non biodegradable waste get mixed together and thrown out.

Biodegradable waste like fruit and vegetable trimmings and other food scraps have high moisture content. When this is mixed with re-usable or recyclable waste like paper or plastic, it makes them wet and soggy, therefore unfit for reusing or recycling.

Paper and plastic must be sorted and kept aside either to be recycled along with your Municipal collector or can be given to the raddiwala. Every single piece of plastic that enters your home can be recycled or re-used. If the plastic that comes in contact with food or cosmetics should be rinsed and washed thoroughly and dried to ensure that they will be recycled.

D.  Home Composting

After source segregation, composting your organic waste yourself is a massive game changing step that you can take to make a serious dent on the landfill problem.

There are excellent organisations like daily Dump who have created easy to use, compact personal composters which can be used to create healthy plant food from all the previously discarded organic matter.

Here is a picture from Vani Murthy’s kambha at Bangalore, where she “makes” excellent, nutritious plant food, from organic waste which would have otherwise gone to a landfill.

This concludes Part 1 of this post. E-waste is another critical issue which is the subject of Part 2.

Sources, Resources,  & People who can help:

Thank you to:

  1. Ranjith Kharvel Annepu of Columbia University for the meticulous report on Solid waste management in India created as a result of 2 years of research, data collected through literature, expert consultations and extensive field visits covering 13 cities in India. Ranjith has been very generous in sharing his data and report with me.
  2. ExNoRa for the extensive photographic coverage of the solid waste issues that exist in Indian cities through their initiative www.garbo.in – do visit, it is an eye opener
  3. Archana Srinivas – wielder of the magic camera, discoverer of all things beautiful and aesthetic on her blog rang decor, and a committed composter and recycler for being generous with her pictures and information on composting and recycling. To view her complete set of pictures on home composting, please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/archanasr_2000/sets/72157627556458791/
  4. Vani Murthy – the Composting Queen who inspires Malleswaram and everyone outside of it to segregate their waste and create wonderful plant food using the Kambha. It is rare to come across people like Vani who literally take to the street inspiring and educating people on solid waste management. Vani ,again, has been extraordinarily generous with her knowledge and her pictures for this post: To know more about how you can compost at home, please go through Vani’s step by step guide here: https://picasaweb.google.com/110138724722809258966/JourneyOfMyKitchenWaste and

https://picasaweb.google.com/106938949057966909183/LeafCompostingInMyBackYard

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Ant Attacks!

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A few days back in the evening, I opened my laptop and saw a long line of fierce red ants doing a merry QWERTY dance. It was nothing short of a campaign of shock and awe by these formicidae. At first I thought it was a new low for these ants to colonize my laptop but then I recalled that ever since we switched to organic food at home, it has been Ant Fest 2011. Sometime back they managed to make a living from organic turmeric so I guess my laptop really wasn’t a big deal.

But the question still remained; what would attract the ants to a laptop?

Ants are always on the search for a cool spot on a hot afternoon and innards of the laptop are a conceivable sanctuary. A few minutes after plugging the laptop charger into the mains, the circuits warmed up and the ants rudely woken up started pouring out onto the keyboard and out of the ports.

The only other reason an ant might wander into a laptop is the possibility of food. We have been scrupulous about not eating anywhere near the laptop so I was quite confident that I was not at fault here.

However even an hour of charging the laptop did not quite lick the ant problem. Moreover I was concerned about the possibility of several ants trapped inside causing inadvertent damage to themselves and the motherboard. I can’t blame the R&D boys at HP for not anticipating this problem. In any case my computer was two years old and I decided to combine the search for red ants with a general cleanup.

At the laptop service centre, I had to firmly put down accusations by the engineer that I had spilled food on the laptop. We then discussed a wild theory about a solvent or glue used in the computer manufacturing process being ant food grade. I got my laptop a day later after a thorough cleanup.

The next day when I took out the laptop from the bag, there was a new line of ants running through the keyboard. So all I had now was a clean laptop with brand new ants making merry.

Use nature to train nature

We have been researching natural ingredients for a wide variety of household applications using a very important principle of repelling insects and not killing them. This principle used with natural ingredients has created a win-win on four levels:

  1. Household insects cannot develop immunity to natural ingredients. They however can get around chemicals as demonstrated by mosquitoes around the world that have developed resistance to DDT. Once hailed as the wonder compound to fight malaria causing mosquitoes, DDT started losing its effectiveness in just five years of use.
  2. At a fundamental level, the so called household pests have an equal right to hang around our homes and gardens. When we use common chemical insecticides to kill cockroaches we are no better than the school bully. Not to mention that the pyrethroids and other hydrocarbons used in these insecticides are dangerous to human health as well.
  3. Natural pest controllers repel insects and do not kill them and create a pleasant fragrant space for us.
  4. Once these insects have been repelled from our home, they pass on the information about the natural repellents to fellow insects, reducing future attacks. However, using an insecticide to kill them also kills the information flow. To explain how this information flow might work we borrow the idea of Morphic Resonance by Rupert Sheldrake. His hypothesis says that every system in nature has a collective or pooled memory called “Morphic field”. So organisms not only share genetic material with others of their species, but are also shaped by a “field” specific to that species. So  an ant repelled by Thyme oil today is a strong indicator that succeeding generations of ants will also be repelled by Thyme oil.

 

The fragrant laptop

So we came up with the solution of using an essential oil mix to repel the red ants. We sprayed a piece of cloth with essential oils of Thyme, Tea tree & Rosemary and placed the laptop overnight on it. The next morning there was no trace of the red ants.

To be doubly sure I now have this essential oil infused cloth in my laptop bag to make it ant-proof.

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Krya Sustainable Urban Living Guides

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We have just put together first of the Krya Sustainable Urban Living Guides : an E-book on DIY Green Cleaners for the Home. This is the first of a series of free E-books that we will publish on sustainable urban living.

We like urban living. Cities are fun, economically very productive and generally indispensable. However there is a dire need to make them more sustainable. In our many experiments we realized that small changes like switching to green cleaners have very high sustainability leverage. This is why the krya blog focuses on sustainable urban living.

This E-book is called ” DIY Green Cleaners for the Home” and uses plant based active ingredients .Green cleaners are safe for humans and leave no toxic residue in our environment. To boot they are very DIY (Do It Yourself) , instant and economical.

Please download,try,share.

DIY Green Cleaners for the Home

(pdf will open in a new browser window, right click, choose “save as” to save to your computer )

 

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Ruminations on Rice

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Srini and I went to an organic fair this Saturday, organised by the Safe Food alliance. There was a stall in the mela by the Sirgazhi traditional farmers co-operative on the bio diversity of rice.

The information available at the stall was extremely thought provoking.

For instance, did you know that 4, 00,000 varieties of rice existed in India during the Vedic period?

Even today nearly half this number is found in India, which is staggering.

Unfortunately, despite having so many varieties of rice, ( even if you ate a new variety a day, it would take you 500 years to exhaust the whole list), our consumption of rice in India is limited to 10 varieties on the outside.

How did we end up consuming such a small variety of rice?

When the Green revolution started in India, a small number of paddy varieties were selected for their capacity to give high yields in response to high doses of fertilizer. As a result, the genetic base of the rice we eat today has narrowed down considerably.

Also, industrial agriculture, promotes plantation style monoculture cropping, which we had written about here.  Monoculture cropping produces high yields in the short term, but severely degrades the quality of the soil and the resultant strains of rice over time. Genetic uniformity of the crop also makes it susceptible to pest or virus attacks wiping out several years of crops in difficult times.

Why is it important to increase our base of rice consumption and support indigenous varieties of rice?

1. Indigenous rice is naturally hardy and pest resistant reducing the dependence on pesticides

  • A case in point: In the 1970s, a virus called the Grassy Stunt virus decimated rice cultivation from Indonesia to India. The rice cultivation at that time in Asia, had been sparked off by the Green revolution, supported by the efforts of the International Rice research Institute. The IRRI bred and developed the paddy varieties used across Asia during the Green revolution to give high yields.These paddy varieties were then called ‘miracle rice’.
  • None of these miracle rices could withstand the attack of the virus. After a 4 year search, researchers found one indigenous variety of Oryza nivara, growing near Gonda, in Uttar Pradesh that could resist the virus’ attack.  Today rice hybrids have been bred that contain this wild Indian gene; these hybrids are grown across Asia. Bred rice is vulnerable to pests; indigenous rice is not.

2. Indigenous rice is not needy; different varieties have adapted themselves to different land conditions from alkaline soil to saline soils, and in drought prone areas and water logged areas.

3. Growing Indigenous rice adds to our food security as a nation. If we used only commercial High yield Hybrids, we are vulnerable to a single pest wiping out our entire rice production.

  • A case in point: The Irish potato famine was a period of mass starvation and immigration from 1842 – 1845. This was caused by a potato disease called the potato blight.
  • Potato blight is caused by Phytopthora infestans which probably arrived in Ireland from the Andes through guano carried in ships. Guano was in demand as a fertilizer in Europe.
  • Nearly 1 million people died as a result of the famine, wiping out 25% of Ireland’s population, changing the course of Ireland for ever.

4. As indigenous rice has already adapted itself to grow in different local conditions, rice can be grown in non-traditional rice areas, reducing the pressure on ‘rice bowl areas’.

5. Indigenous varieties of rice are naturally suited for organic farming, as they need fewer inputs in the form of fertilizers or support in the form of pesticides and herbicides.

6. They are valuable in the agriculture eco system, as they yield straw that is valuable to farmers as cattle feed as well as roofing material.

7. They are inexpensive to cultivate and promote self sufficiency in the farming community

8.There is no need to buy seeds or inputs (fertilizers, pesticides) from anyone.  The farmer saves seeds from every year’s crop and uses it in the next season. Seeds are also swapped between farmers, giving everyone access to a larger gene pool.

Interesting varieties of indigenous rice found in Tamilnadu and their health benefits

1. Thanga Samba (Golden Samba)

  • The golden colour of the matured grains, gives this variety its name. This rice is extremely fine and long, and it is believed that long term consumption of this rice keeps you young and healthy.

2.Neelan Samba

  • A variety of rice suitable to areas that experience water logging as it can be cultivated in the vicinity of lakes. It is resistant to pests like the brown yield hopper and ear head bug and is recommended for lactating mothers to increase their milk yield. Also, as its straw is very long, it is well suited to use as roofing material.

3. Mapillai Samba (The Bridegroom’s Samba)

  • Many indigenous varieties are rice are known to increase the energy of the eater. In folklore, a bridegroom once had to display his strength by lifting a heavy stone called the Mapillai Kallu (The Bridegroom’s Stone). Eating the Mapillai Samba rice gave him enough energy to lift the stone and presumably win the fair maiden.

4. Kurangu Samba (Monkey samba)

  • The ear heads of the grain are very long, with 267 grains per ear head. It is a versatile variety that grows both in dry areas and areas prone to water logging. It is highly resistant to pests and diseases.

5. Kalarpalai

  • The 2004 Tsunami caused a lot of damage to the agricultural lands of the Nagapattinam coast. The land became unfit for cultivation because of the inflow of sea water. The Kalarpalai rice came to the rescue of the farmers as it was tolerant to salinity and could be grown in saline soil, unlike most modern varieties.

6. Seeraga samba (Jeera samba)

  • This rice resembles the shape of the Jeera or cumin seed. The rice is extremely fine and aromatic, and though it has a lower yield compared to modern varieties, it is prized in Tamilnadu to make aromatic rice dishes like biryani. This rice fetches a high price because of its aromatic quality.

7. Kullakar Rice

  • This rice is suitable to make idly, dosas and porridge. Its growing duration is short, and can therefore be grown throughout the year in all 3 seasons. Kullakar is also highly resistant to pests and disease.

8. Samba Mosanam rice

  • This rice is good for preparing dosa and poha (aval), and idly. As it is suitable for growing near the vicinity of lakes, it has been used successfully by farmers whose land gets waterlogged in the monsoon. The stalks of Samba Mosanam remain unaffected despite having nearly 4 ½ feet of water stagnation in the land. But stalks of high yield varieties like Ponni rice, germinate in this water, resulting in crop loss.

9. Thooyamalee rice (Pure Jasmine rice)

  • As the rice is white in colour, and as the ear heads of this rice look like flowers in the flowering stage, this rice is called the ‘Pure Jasmine’ in Tamil. It is a fine rice that is highly resistant to pests and disease.

10. Kalanamak (Black Basmati)

  • Kalanamak rice, is one of the most important scented rices of India, and gets its name from the black colour of its husk and its tolerance to saline soils. It is said to be better than Basmati in all aspects except grain length, and is considered the finest quality of rice in international trade.

11. Kouni Nel (For the baby in the womb)

  • Kouni Nel is used in ceremonies like the Seemantham, performed when a woman is pregnant. It is believed that consumption of this variety of rice provides specific nutrients required for during pregnancy.

Srini and I are committed to organic food, and have been eating organic for a year now. Visiting the Rice bio-diversity stall added another element to our food choices – look for local, indigenous crop wherever possible.

After some investigation, we have found that local grocers in Chennai stock indigenous varieties of rice like Jeeraga Samba, and Kitchli samba, which are available on request.

Consuming locally produced food has always been a carbon friendly habit because of the savings in transportation and storage of the food. It is great to explore it from another aspect and see how well it fits in with sustainability, self sufficiency and good health.

Sources:

  1. Seerkazhi Organic farmers association stall at Semmozhi Poonga, Chennai
  2. Material on Rice Bio-diversity – Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Systems: www.ciks.org

 

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Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

International tidyman logo
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The “tidy man“ logo can be found somewhere in the nether regions of many consumer product labels, especially food products. It places a responsibility on me to dispose the packaging material in a trash can after using the product inside. This idea and the tidy man logo was created to keep the streets in U.K. litter free by a British charity called “keep Britain tidy” in the ‘70s. It is now commonly used across the world on all types of products.

Now this idea has been around for nearly 40 years and I am not sure if there has been any measurable impact in the way consumers dispose packaging material. Certainly the fact that this logo is now a footnote on most labels gives an indication of its impact.

It is one thing not to litter

It is entirely another thing to recycle

Along came recycling

Around the same time in the ‘70s came the recycling logo. Depending on material type, consumer product manufacturers started using an array of recycling symbols, all based on the classic 3-arrow logo.  (For more on the symbols, refer to our earlier post on this).

recycled logo

Again the responsibility of recycling was handed over by the manufacturer to me when I paid for the product. It is up to me to figure out the meanings of the different symbols and dispose accordingly. This is really is a shot in the dark and the odds of it getting done are desperately low.

This brings us to the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility.

EPR

When does the manufacturer’s responsibility end?

In the dark ages, I paid money and received a product and that was it. The manufacturer’s role ended.

The next stage obviously was the concept of customer care. So the manufacturer had to account for the product’s performance as long as I was consuming it. I had some recourse in case I was not happy with the product’s performance.

In this equation we now have a third variable, the environment.

The struggle (if any) has been to decide who really is responsible for the environment. As a result manufacturers took the trouble of putting the “tidy man” and “recycling” logos on their product. Unlike customer care there is no legal sanction for this and till date there is no clear mandate for manufacturers to account for proper disposal of every part of their products.

Extended Producer Responsibility means that the manufacturer is responsible for the product from design, consumer use to disposal. It covers the entire product life cycle.

This is a whole new idea and a whole new responsibility. It forces designers think about products in an entirely new way.

All over the world, local civic bodies are alarmed at rate at which landfills are getting used up, especially with toxic e-waste. E-waste especially from mobile phones has given cause for this alarm and even the Indian government has a draft proposal for Extended Producer Responsibility for electronics manufacturers.

This has lead to some companies like Nokia putting up a recycling bin at their stores to collect old phones and prevent them from ending up in a landfill.

In the case of consumer product companies, metallised plastic is one material that is extremely difficult to recycle or dispose correctly. It is widely used for convenience foods like chips and biscuits and due to the high volumes, is as much a concern as toxic e-waste. It is a material that sorely needs some EPR.

The EPR concept gives the manufacturer 2 options

  1. Pay for disposal of their product waste in the form of a tax.
  2. Create a reverse logistics chain to collect their product waste.

Obviously the cost of Extended Producer Responsibility depends on the type of waste the product generates.

The bright side of EPR

The key for manufacturers is to look at EPR as a way to innovate. For example, ASUS has created a bamboo laptop. That is just awesome.

Another bright star in the EPR movement is a company that we love called Teracycle. They have created a breakthrough business model where consumers get paid to send product waste to teracycle collection points. They then create cool products from the waste to make the whole chain financially viable.

Terracycle has created a terrific platform for manufacturers to participate in and take extended producer responsibility.

EPR in India

There are several companies in India that have created a business model by collecting e-waste and extracting useful metals from it. What we don’t have is a Terracycle that addresses the waste from consumer products.

I am sure it is just a matter of time.

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