AORA Annual Conference rescheduled to November

In consideration of rapid COVID-19 developments, the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) has rescheduled its 2020 Annual Conference to 25 – 27 November.

According to an AORA statement, the venue will remain the same, with the conference taking place at the Crowne Plaza in NSW’s Hunter Valley.

“The health and safety of our members and attendees is our top priority, and after speaking to many of our partners, exhibitors, speakers and attendees, the overwhelming consensus is that postponing the event is the preferred outcome,” the statement reads.

“The program and arrangements made so far will remain in place. For attendees, exhibitors and sponsors, we will automatically transfer your booking to the rescheduled event. If these new dates pose a problem for you, AORA will provide a full refund of your booking.”

If delegates have booked accommodation at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, the hotel will automatically cancel the existing booking, with delegates encouraged to rebook at their convenience.

The Annual AORA Conference will feature workshops, presentations, a gala dinner, networking functions and an equipment demonstration day.

Plenary sessions will cover a common vision for the future of the industry, community engagement and informed opinion sessions on food organics and garden organics, carbon, in the field and what’s next.

For further inquires contact conference@aora.org.au.

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NSW targets zero organics in landfill by 2030

The NSW Government’s Net Zero Plan Stage One: 2020-2030 seeks to achieve net zero emissions from organic waste in landfill by 2030, with targeted actions to support councils improve services and product quality.

“Organic waste, such as food scraps and garden trimmings, makes up about 40 per cent of red-lidded kerbside bins. When sent to landfill, the decomposing material releases methane that may not be captured,” the plan reads.

“However, when this waste is managed effectively, through proper composting and recycling processes, methane emissions can be substantially reduced, soils can be regenerated to store carbon and biogas can be created to generate electricity.”

The plan outlines specific actions including supporting best-practice food and garden waste management infrastructure, and ensuring compost or other organic soils are of the highest quality for land application.

Furthermore, the state government will facilitate the development of waste-to-energy facilities in locations with strong community support, and update regulatory settings to ensure residual emissions from the organic waste industry are offset.

The NSW economy will see over $11.6 billion in private investment and 2400 new jobs as a result of the plan, according to Environment Minister Matt Kean.

“Where there are technologies that can reduce both our emissions and costs for households and businesses, we want to roll them out across the state. Where these technologies are not yet commercial, we want to invest in their development so they will be available in the decades to come,” Mr Kean said.

The plan outlines four key priorities: drive uptake of proven emissions reduction technologies, empower consumers and businesses to make sustainable choices, invest in the next wave of emissions reduction innovation and ensure the NSW Government leads by example.

Mr Kean said roughly two-thirds of the plan’s private investment will be directed at regional and rural NSW, “diversifying local economies that are doing it tough after the drought and devastating bushfire season.”

“Global markets are rapidly changing in response to climate change, with many of the world’s biggest economies and companies committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050. NSW already leads the nation with its economic and investment plans and from today, NSW will lead the nation with its Net Zero Plan,” Mr Kean said.

“Our actions are firmly grounded in science and economics, not ideology, to give our workers and businesses the best opportunity to thrive in a low-carbon world.”

The plan is financially supported by a $2 billion bilateral agreement between the Federal and NSW Government, announced in January 2020.

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NSW injects $24M into kerbside FOGO

The NSW Government will provide $24 million in funding to support local councils and the alternative waste industry improve food and garden waste kerbside separation.

The financial injection follows the NSW EPA’s controversial October 2019 reaffirmation of its 2018 mixed waste organic output revocation, which saw the material banned from agricultural land applications.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the funding will help local councils and industry adopt and improve sustainable organic waste management, while the government undertakes consultation for its NSW 20 Year Waste Strategy.

“We know from the $105 million investment currently provided under the Waste Less Recycle More initiative that recycling food and garden waste through a dedicated kerbside bin works. Already more than 40 councils across NSW have food and garden kerbside collections with good results,” he said.

“To help make this change, we’re investing $24 million to support local councils and industry operators that were putting organic waste in red bins to produce mixed waste organic outputs.”

According to Mr Kean, the initiative is financial viable and will create a beneficial product that helps improve soil health.

“That’s why we are providing this type of support for the alternative waste industry and councils. The $24 million will help councils implement or improve kerbside organic waste collections, purchase new equipment and upgrade facilities,” Mr Kean said.

The EPA and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will also undertake organics research to improve investor confidence in collection and processing.

“This funding boost will support local government and industry while we develop the best long-term solutions for waste management and resource recovery through the NSW 20 Year Waste Strategy,” Mr Kean said.

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Trevor Evans to open AORA Annual Conference

Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans will open the Australian Organics Recycling Association’s (AORA) 2020 Annual Conference.

AORA National Chair Peter Wadewitz said Mr Evans’ confirmation is another strong addition to an outstanding lineup of national and international experts.

Held 1 to 3 April in the Hunter Valley NSW, the conference will feature practical demonstrations, social events and plenary sessions focused on different aspects of the organics industry.

“The Annual AORA Conference features workshops, presentations, a gala dinner, networking functions and an equipment demonstration day. This is the prime opportunity of 2020 to network with industry leaders and gain insights into the latest opportunities in the organics recycling industry,” Mr Wadewitz said.

“Plenary sessions will cover a common vision for the future of the industry, community engagement and informed opinion sessions on food organics and garden organics, carbon, in the field and what’s next.”

The conference will also feature keynote presentations from Teaming series author Jeff Lowenfels and Aurel Lübke of Compost Systems Austria.

For more information click here.

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Registrations open for AORA Annual Conference

The Australian Organics Recycling Association’s (AORA) annual conference is open for attendee registration.

This year’s conference, held 1 to 3 April at the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley, NSW, will feature a line up of national and international organics experts.

Each plenary session will focus on one aspect of the organics industry, seeking out differing views and options for the future.

AORA National Chair Peter Wadewitz said the conference will be a prime opportunity to network with industry leaders and gain insights into the latest opportunities in the organics recycling industry.

“The AORA Conference is a forum for education, discussion and networking related to organics recycling. It is also an opportunity to celebrate outstanding achievements in the industry,” Mr Wadewitz said.

“I look forward to catching up with many friends and colleagues, and hearing the best ideas for our industry from across Australia and around the world.”

The event will feature keynote presentations from Teaming series author Jeff Lowenfels and Aurel Lübke of Compost Systems Austria.

For more information click here.

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Next generation AORA

AORA’s new Executive Officer Peter Olah speaks with Waste Management Review about the association’s plans to support and strengthen the Australian organics industry. 

The organics industry is in interesting times. While awareness over the importance of sustainable organics management has never been higher, compliance costs, regulatory changes and disrupted end markets are causing problems for small and medium enterprises.

How to effectively manage and process food waste is gaining traction though, with Infrastructure Victoria’s Recycling and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Evidence Base Report suggesting consistent approaches to FOGO are critical to achieving greater overall resource recovery rates.

Though this is likely welcome news to the Victorian arm of the organics sector, across the border in NSW, the situation is murkier.

In October, the NSW EPA reaffirmed its 2018 Mixed Waste Organics Output decision, stating the authority had no intention of amending its revocation of the material’s resource recovery exemption order.

For Peter Olah, the Australian Organics Recycling Association’s (AORA) new Executive Officer, the organics industry’s current challenges present an opportunity for growth.

“While I’m entering my new role at AORA in a challenging time for not just the organics industry, but the recycling industry at large, I’m excited to face those challenges head on and support the organics industry as it advances,” Peter says.

Peter, who currently serves as the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute’s Chief Executive Officer, has an extensive background in politics and public administration.

He previously worked on the private staff of a NSW Premier, and served as a Policy Advisor to Ministers for Justice and Police.

Furthermore, Peter served as a Hurstville City Council Councillor in Sydney for 12 years, including three terms as Hurstville Mayor and three as Deputy Mayor.

“I also worked with NSW State Transit for seven years, fulfilling a number of management functions for the organisation’s board and CEO, including projects in government and customer relations, public affairs, industrial advocacy, internal communications and cost efficiency,” he says.

Drawing on this leadership experience, Peter intends to help AORA deliver the objectives laid out in its 2019-2022 National Strategy.

“The strategy’s mission statement is to work with stakeholders to facilitate the conditions through which surplus organic material can be sustainably and cost-effectively recycled.” Peter says.

“Furthermore, we intent to promote the beneficial use of compost  and mulches in primary industries.”

In addition to the overall mission, Peter says AORA have three key objectives, including strengthening AORA as the peak body for the organics recycling industry and championing a pathway to optimise closed loop organics recycling.

Additionally, he says, AORA intends to establish and participate in knowledge hubs for recycled organics research, development, extension and communication.

“I will use my experience in stakeholder management and knowledge of political processes to ensure our member’s voices are heard and continue the advocacy and industry support role of AORA,” he says.

“As the central body for organics in Australia, I also intend to ensure the sustainable growth of the association.”

To achieve this, Peter says he will take time to speak with members about their concerns and ensure those concerns are further discussed with the AORA board.

One of AORA’s next steps, he says, is collaborating with members to establish standards and best practice certifications programs.

“AORA’s members are leaders in the organics space, and drawing on their expertise, I hope to use my position to identify, communicate and celebrate best practice strategies, technologies, performance and products,” he says.

“By working together, AORA can help create an environment where the work of individuals and organisations in the organics industry leads the way to a more sustainable Australian future.”

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Protecting agricultural soils

Opinion piece: 

Queensland’s agricultural sector is concerned about growing challenges to the NSW Government’s MWOO decision, writes Georgina Davis, Queensland Farmers’ Federation CEO. 

Recent rhetoric from the waste management industry around the decision by the NSW Government to reaffirm it’s 2018 ban relating to the application of mixed waste organics output (MWOO) to agricultural land and forestry is disappointing. With a recent article even discussing opportunities to challenge the decision through a merit appeal or other legal challenge.

The number of individuals who consider agricultural land to be a dumping ground for stabilised municipal waste (including MWOO) is unacceptable; all to simply avoid landfill tax and operational costs associated with source separation, resource recovery, treatment and appropriate disposal to engineered, licensed facilities where required.

Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) has been actively advocating to the Queensland Government to ban the application of stabilised municipal solid waste to farmland for some years.

Currently, mixed waste compost is applied to farmland in Queensland using AS4454 (Australian Standard for Composts, Soil Conditioners and Mulches) to provide a suitable threshold.

AS4454 is limited, and at best, only infers minimum quality standards. It does not contain criteria for new and emerging contaminants such as PFOS and PFOA and the physical contaminant levels still permit significant levels of contamination [for plastics (soft) (<0.05 per cent dry matter w/w – visible proportion only) and glass, metals and rigid plastics (<0.5 per cent dry matter w/w)].

Many jurisdictions have suffered an early ‘shred and spread’ application of municipal wastes and untreated organics to land, which were driven by the desire to avoid increasing waste disposal charges, often as a result of a landfill tax.

In these cases, many environmental regulatory authorities were slow to realise the loopholes, determine environmental harm, and in turn, control application or specify application rates.

Application rates were decided by farmers and in some cases, the market value (or free of charge nature) of these products against the increasing price of traditional chemical fertilisers or quality organic products.

Early applications of stabilised waste/mixed waste composts to UK farmland in the late 1990’s to early noughties (to avoid the landfill tax) were dealt with through a judicial process.

This was a result of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs seeking to recover significant sums of outstanding landfill tax or contractual breaches between local government, contractors and landholders. In some cases the judicial actions were to recover funds to remediate the land.

Fortunately for the UK an exemption for stabilised waste from the landfill tax was never granted, and the growing demand from continental Europe for refuse derived fuels (RDF) resulted in many MBT/BMT plants being converted to RDF/SRF manufacturing facilities.

Areas of the United States and Europe have seen ongoing concern and opposition to the spreading of mixed waste composts, compost-like organics (CLOs), stabilised wastes, manures and untreated biosolids to land, in particular to farmland.

This has resulted in some jurisdictions setting high quality standards for both organic waste treatment processes and the resulting organic products and land/plant application limits. While others have always simply banned the application of mixed waste composts and CLOs to farmland.

One issue is that it is easier to define and prove environmental benefit than environmental harm, particularly where the application soils are weak, degraded or deficient in a range of nutrients or organic matter.

As such, mixed waste composts and CLOs in many cases easily demonstrate their beneficial application, sometimes in preference to single stream (green waste) composts; whilst the contamination risks are harder to define and more expensive to prove.

This is particularly true for the cost of analysis to identify micro-pollutants and the required commitment of undertaking longitudinal surveys to determine the risks of bioaccumulation in soils and plants, or retardation of plant growth.

Recently in the UK, there has been an outpouring of public and political concern regarding the environmental impacts resulting from the application of green waste composts manufactured from source segregated (domestic) waste streams to farmland.

Concerns regarding the land application of these products include the impacts of physical pollutants such as plastics, biological factors including pathogens and genetically modified organisms, animal diseases, the toxicity from heavy metals; and more recently as highlighted in the literature, the bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants and micro-pollutants.

The UK’s PAS 100 standard for example, allows 0.12 per cent of plastic in a final composted product – the equivalent of 1.2 tonnes of plastic in 1000 tonnes of compost. However, continued analysis has shown that the level of plastic contamination is rising in the UK, with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the Environment Agency England, now introducing a 50 per cent reduction in the allowable (not desirable) level.

There is also an assumption by many that applying MWOO or CLO’s to forestry or pasture presents a ‘lower risk’.

While that land may be used only for forestry or pasture now, the changing climate, changing hydraulic characteristics of water catchments (with some areas seeing more or less precipitation); and more pressure to grow food for domestic and export markets, coupled with restrictions on clearing undeveloped land (Vegetation Management legislation in Queensland for example); it is increasingly likely that new land for growing food may utilise existing timber and foliage production areas or pastoral properties.

Once soils are contaminated it will be prohibitively costly and technologically challenging to remediate them.

The manufacture of MWOO and CLOs also poses a risk to the viability and sustainability of the organic recovery/composting sector.

Queensland’s agricultural sector needs a vibrant and healthy organic manufacturing sector capable of supplying quality soil and potting mixes through to contaminant-free compost and mulching materials for tree crops.

While many farms produce their own organic products, the quantities are insufficient to meet all of agriculture’s needs and many primary producers do not have the physical land footprint, appropriate location, infrastructure capacity, feedstocks or ‘want’ to manufacture their own organic products.

Land and soils are precious. Some farmland is genuinely irreplaceable and critical to ensure future food and nutrient security for our communities. There is also a growing consumer expectation and requirement for transparency and traceability surrounding the food chain.

Queensland, and indeed Australia, is a significant exporter of quality produce, and as such, it is imperative that Queensland maintains the quality of its farmland and food chain production standards.

For 2019–20, the total value of Queensland’s primary industry commodities (combined gross value of production and first-stage processing) is forecast to be $17.80 billion. And the gross value of production (GVP) of Queensland’s primary industry commodities at the ‘farm gate’ is forecast to be $13.94 billion; noting a considerable reduction on previous years due to climate impacts including the ongoing drought.

Any activity perceived (not necessarily proven) to contaminate farmland would damage our reputation and demand for our primary produce. Domestic consumers are also quite rightly questioning the provenance of their food.  They want to know animal husbandry conditions and where their carrots were grown down to the farm, the paddock and the soil type.

QFF supports a precautionary principle and science-based decision-making, acknowledging the deficit of credible and valid scientific data concerning many of the emerging contaminants and their end of life outcomes in the environment.

Farmers are custodians of the land and they want to be confident that the soil ameliorants they are using do not pose any negative environmental or health impacts.

QFF will continue to advocate for clear policy concerning the permitted end-uses for stabilised non-source segregated municipal solid waste and CLOs that does not include application to agricultural land; and will continue to promote quality composts, mulches and soil ameliorant products to the agricultural sector.

Georgina Davis is the Founder of consultancy firm The Waste to Opportunity Enterprise and Adjunct at the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University.

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Infrastructure Victoria releases interim waste report

Infrastructure Victoria has published its interim report to the Victorian Government on the infrastructure required to support a changing recycling and resource recovery sector.

According to Infrastructure Victoria CEO Michel Masson, Victoria’s total waste generation nearly doubled between 2000 and 2018, growing from 7.4 million tonnes to 13.4 millions tonnes each year. Mr Masson said stockpiling and illegal dumping are now significant concerns.

Despite this, Mr Masson said after a thorough investigation of the recycling and resource recovery sector, Infrastructure Victoria has identified exciting opportunities for investment, new processes and community action.

“To waste less and recycle more, governments, communities and businesses all need to play their parts. We have all learnt to use less water and power, now we have to apply the same principles to waste,” Mr Masson said.

The report specifically outlines that further investment in organic processing is needed to divert food and garden waste from landfill and reduce methane gas emissions.

“Infrastructure Victoria has identified the food and garden waste should go to more high quality composting facilities, which would need to be supported by a rollout of household organics collection services,” Mr Masson said.

Victoria’s current co-mingled system does not produce sufficiently clean streams to support end markets for recycled materials, according to the report.

“Greater separation of waste in homes and businesses can reduce contamination and improve the quality of our recycling,” the report reads.

“Infrastructure Victoria’s consumer research demonstrates 90 per cent of households surveyed are open to changing how they sort their waste.”

Report findings show best practice jurisdictions separate at least five types of material at the source, including organics, plastics, paper and card, glass and metals.

While multiple calls have been made to introduce a container deposit scheme in Victoria, the preliminary view of the report is that more analysis is needed on how to design an optimal scheme for Victoria.

The report also calls for improved commercial and industrial recycling standards.

“Incentives and price signals need to be examined to improve performance across the board, from manufacturers to retail,” the report reads.

Initiatives to disincentivise the use of virgin materials in production, or promote the procurement of products made from recycled materials, were also highlighted.

Proposed actions include:

Developing a clear, overarching policy framework including recycling targets and waste-to-energy.

Supporting councils to implement more consistent approaches to sorting and collecting waste, helping to reduce contamination in household recycling collection.

Better planning, locating and protecting waste management sites.

Working with the Commonwealth and other states to reduce packaging and single use plastics.

Increasing the use of recycled materials by eliminating barriers and updating government procurement guidelines.

Infrastructure Victoria will deliver its final report on recycling and resource recovery infrastructure in April 2020.

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Tightening standards to build markets for recycled organics

The drive to divert organic waste from landfill around Australia has created a supply of recycled organics that remains largely underutilised and undervalued, writes Angus Johnston, Principal Consultant at Jackson Environment and Planning.

Too much organic material is released as low-quality pasteurised products, containing too much contamination. Due to the policies and regulations of state and federal governments, a lot more supply will come on-line in the next five years. There remains an urgent need to tighten standards for compost use and build markets that will absorb this supply.

Urban markets for compost (e.g. landscape supplies) are well developed but highly competitive, because supply often exceeds demand. These markets cannot consistently use all the organic matter available for recycling. Using compost for gardens and landscaping also squanders the opportunity to return carbon and nutrients to the soils they were extracted from — the farms where our food and fibre are grown.

Fortunately, there is enormous potential demand for use of compost in agriculture. At an average annual application rate of 10 tonnes per hectare, we only need 100,000 hectares to absorb one million tonnes of compost.

There is roughly 65 million hectares of farmland in NSW alone. However, this demand can only be accessed at the right price, quality and specification. That price doesn’t have to be low, but quality and performance absolutely must be high.

The highly regulated nature of the organic recycling sector means that state and local government can strongly influence whether compost price and quality conditions are met by industry. Industry can also play a role by agreeing on and adopting higher product standards.

Organics recycling is suffering from the same issues that caused the China National Sword packaging crisis.

Local government procurement of recycling services often has a much greater focus on transfer of risk and price than on recycled product quality, beneficial use and value adding. This approach creates an incentive for contractors to do the minimum processing necessary to divert waste from landfill and comply with state government regulations. They then release these low-quality outputs into the market as ‘compost’.

Low quality products that cost less to manufacture can then be sold at a lower price point. Such products undermine the market for higher quality products that cost more to produce. If a farmer can purchase a product claiming to be ‘compost’ for $10 per tonne (delivered), why would they pay $100 per tonne?

If that low-cost compost does not deliver enough tangible result, or is clearly full of rubbish, farmers often apply their negative experience to every product claiming to be a compost. Only a few farmers take the time to understand the difference in value between the $10 and $100 product.

This scenario has played out repeatedly in agricultural and other compost end markets, and is still happening right now around the country.

Every time contaminated immature products are sold as “compost” we undermine the credibility of compost and organic recycling. There are producers that make quality fit-for-purpose composts and have built up trust for their brand in certain markets. They can command high prices for their products, however, they are the exception rather than the rule.

There needs to be tighter standards and improved quality assurance and quality control. For example:

  1. Mandatory requirement for independently audited quality assurance programs at each processing facility
  2. Regular auditing of batch test results to requirements of the relevant Resource Recovery Orders and Exemptions (in NSW) or equivalent standards in other states
  3. Physical contamination requirements reduced to 0.2 per cent (plastic, glass and metal) and 0.02 per cent (film plastic) by weight for all soil conditioners
  4. Soil conditioners to meet the AS4454 definition of compost or mature compost (not just pasteurisation)
  5. Define compost using selected test results (such as respirometry) rather than a minimum six weeks process duration

Some established commercial composters may see the tighter standards above as a threat because their current operations have been set up to meet lower standards. Many are locked into long-term contracts at set gate fees. This is where state and local governments have a role in supporting industry to make a transition to higher standards by helping to fund facility upgrades, allowing variations to contracts, and regulating free riders who don’t adopt tighter voluntary standards.

There is a cost to implementing higher standards, but there are also rewards:

  • Access to much greater demand from agricultural markets
  • Fewer complaints from the public and customers
  • Fewer fines and less negative attention from the regulators
  • Reduced product related risk
  • Higher barriers to entry for new competitors
  • A more ‘level playing field’ during tendering

The packaging recyclers did not seek to tighten their own standards and neither did the processors of mixed waste in NSW. Both groups could have agreed to produce cleaner products to a higher standard but chose not to. For these recyclers either their customers or their regulators decided to tighten their standards for them, at great financial and reputational cost to the recyclers involved. Some businesses didn’t survive the change.

Tighter standards need to be introduced in consultation with all stakeholders, and with time allowed for the industry and their customers to adapt.

The Australian Organics Recycling Association provides an ideal forum for industry led tightening and enforcement of standards.

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Grants available for bioenergy infrastructure

Grants worth $750,000 are now available to support bioenergy infrastructure projects, as part of Sustainability Victoria’s Bioenergy Infrastructure Fund.

The Bioenergy Infrastructure Fund is open to industry, social enterprises, community groups and government entities working on bioenergy technology that will increase sustainable energy production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainability Victoria Interim CEO Carl Muller said the grants are aimed at projects that will boost the collection and reuse of organics across the state.

“Victoria’s commercial and industrial sector generates more than 900,000 tonnes of organic waste every year, with over a quarter of that being food, and around ten per cent is recovered,” Mr Muller said.

“There is great potential for increased recovery of organics as a valuable fuel source, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Previously funded projects include the Western Region Water Corporation, which received $802,784 to collect food waste and generate energy, and the East Gippsland Region Water Corporation, which received $209,765 to enhance an existing bio-digester to process septic tank waste, food waste, fats, oils and greases.

“Bioenergy can play an important role in the mix of renewable energy, supporting not only our transition towards a renewable energy generation network but also a circular economy,” Mr Muller said.

Proposals are open for bioenergy infrastructure or feasibility and technical studies.

Grant applications close 28 October 2019.

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