Recycled Plastic Materials in the Adidas X Parley Ultraboost Sneaker
In 2016, New York based company Parley announced its new partnership with Adidas. The organization planned to collect recycled plastic water bottles from the ocean, and convert them into useable materials for the popular Adidas shoe, the Ultraboost. Though the motive seems moral and wholly good for the environment, it poses questions. Exactly how are the water bottles made into useable materials? Which materials are actually used in the final product? In 2017, Parley said that it’s goal was ‘to produce a million pairs of Parley X Adidas ocean plastic shoes.’ Doing so would remove many potentially harmful products from the ocean. Adidas X Parley Ultraboosts are a proficient alternative to mainstream sneakers due to the use of recycled thermoplastic polyurethane, other recycled plastic materials in major components of the shoe, and more sustainable materials.
Major components of the Adidas X Parley Ultra Boosts are made from salvaged water bottles, collected from our oceans. This essay does not provide information on the origin of the plastic bottles themselves due to the immense volume and variety of brands of plastic water bottles. Instead, we will begin with the organization responsible for the collection of these bottles: Parley. Since the beginning of the partnership between the two, Adidas has maintained that it will follow Parley’s ‘A.I.R’ strategy, to Avoid, Intercept, and Redesign; Avoid meaning avoid the use of single use plastics, Intercept plastic from entering our oceans, and Redesign products so that they do not use harmful plastics. Parley also stated in 2016 that it plans “to make 1 million pairs of recycled ocean plastic shoes in 2017.” Parley says that for every pair of shoes made, it uses plastic from 11 recycled water bottles. These water bottles are primarily collected in coastal regions such as off the coast of the Maldives before being sent to Taiwan to be turned into fibres that can be used in textiles. The name of Parley and Adidas supplier in Taiwan is the Far Eastern New Century Corp. (FENC). FENC has not only the highest recycling rate of bottles into fibres worldwide, at around 95%, but is also innovating in the field of textile dyes. Through the combined efforts of Adidas, Parley, and FENC, bottles discarded in the ocean are being turned into high quality shoes. According to Parley, the goal of one millions pairs of shoes was accomplished, meaning that in the year 2017, eleven million water bottles were retrieved and recycled by Adidas and Parley. Once these water bottles are received by FENC, they are made into textile fibres that are used in the Ultraboosts, namely recycled polyester and polystrene, as well as perhaps the most important, thermoplastic polyurethane.
Whereas normal plastic textiles are made from petroleum and are not environmentally friendly, the polyester used in Adidas X Parley ultra boosts is recycled. Instead of using petroleum as the raw material, it is instead replaced with plastic water bottles, or ‘PET bottles.’ These ‘PET’ bottles are mainly collected from the oceans. The process used to make recycled polyester begins when PET bottles are sterilized, and then crushed into small chips of plastic. These chips are then heated and passed through a spinneret to create long strands of yarn. The yarn is then wound up in spools and passed through a crimping machine to give it a wooly texture before being dyed and knitted into the fabric that is used in the manufacturing of shoes. In the Ultraboost, the ‘upper’ (the component that covers the top of your foot) is made of recycled polyester. The ‘heel counter’ is a rigid insert that goes underneath a wearer’s heel in a shoe. In the Ultraboost, the heel counter is 50% recycled polystrene from food packaging, via Adidas supplier ‘framas.’ According to Adidas, framas makes them 110 million heel counters per year, meaning they divert 1500 tonnes of waste from going to landfills. In comparison, a normal heel counter is typically made of virgin materials (materials straight from the ground in raw form) such as thermoplastic rubber and polystyrene. While the environmental benefits of recycled ocean plastics are far and above those of virgin materials, the durability of these plastics are not. In a Japanese study conducted by Kobe University in 2004, where recycled polyester fibres were washed repeatedly, it was concluded that recycled material fabrics are more likely to fatigue than virgin fabrics. However, the study does not account for the benefits of recycled material and the increasingly urgent problem of our fast degrading oceans. Use of these materials greatly benefit the ocean and our environment, but they can also greatly benefit us, the users. Perhaps the most important recycled plastic material in the Ultraboost is thermoplastic polyurethane.
Due to it’s high energy absorption and lightweight nature, the Ultraboost contains bead foaming technology in the outsole, made of recycled thermoplastic polyurethane. Manufactured from the same recycled plastic as other elements of the shoe, the technology has been dubbed ‘Infinergy’ named after the inventor, a German sports equipment company. There are many benefits to the use of thermoplastic polyurethane; the material is extremely resilient, and resists all temperatures, however the main advantage is that bead foams offer very low density while still maintaining a highly malleable texture. To begin the highly advanced process of making thermoplastic polyurethane, a mixture of polymer and gas must be created or obtained. Next the nucleation of cells in the polymer create nuclei, which act as a “centre for cell growth” (Raps, Hossieny, Park, Altstadt, Polymers). From there, cell growth takes place until a desirable size is obtained. A sudden drop in temperature will stabilize the cells in order to stop them from growing more. With the application of a blowing agent, each bead is expanded. Finally, the beads are blown into a mould and welded together via the passing of hot steam through the substance to achieve the ideal shape. The most popular bead foam is EPS (Expanded Polystyrene), an estimated 4.7 million tons are consumed per year, however they lead to enormous amounts of waste. In the Ultraboost, TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) is used, made from recycled water bottles. Not only are these TPU outsoles temperature resistant, extremely lightweight, highly malleable, and energy absorbent, but they are also fully biodegradable. With the addition of a digestion enzyme called proteinase, the outsole will fully degrade in 36 hours. There also seems to be room for improvement. A recent prototype for adidas contained “Futurecraft Biofabric” which is also made from TPU. New adidas sneakers could contain this fabric in addition to a TPU outsole, making the shoe even more sustainable.
The TPU outsole isn’t just made of beads, but it is also encased in rubber to protect the energy absorbing ocean plastics. Adidas partner and manufacturer Continental is most well known for making tires but actually makes all types of rubber. In the Ultraboost, Continental produces a high quality outsole. Though they produce both natural and synthetic rubbers (which use crude oil as the main raw material), the rubber used in the outsole of Ultraboosts is purely natural, named ‘Stretchweb.’ Natural rubbers are made from rubber trees and are not harmful to the environment. Synthetic rubbers take many years to degrade and often end up sitting in landfills. In this way, Continental provides a high-grip, high energy absorbing outsole out of environmentally friendly materials. In addition, the outsole of the Ultraboost contains a TPU “Torsion system bar.” This technology is made to reduce the strain on the middle of the foot, and allows the heel and front of the foot to move independently. Due to it being made of TPU, the piece degrades in a matter of a few days.
In conclusion, what is most astounding about the Adidas x Parley Ultraboosts, is that these sustainable materials were used with no compromise to the quality of the product. We see an example of this in industry leading ‘BOOST’ technology. The use of recycled thermoplastic urethane makes for a biodegradable outsole, while also containing a natural rubber grip. Additionally, the upper of the shoe is made of recycled polyester while the heel counter is also recycled ocean plastic. The use of all these materials collectively contributes to the production of a more sustainable shoe. Through these methods, Adidas and Parley are making a difference in the fields of sneaker sustainability and recycled plastic use. That’s not all, they have also developed and produced one of the most technologically advanced and sustainable sneakers out there.
To this day history has been defined by innovators and people who take initiative. The foundation of the shoe game and athletic footwear has been due thanks to certain important figures. It all started in a small town in Bavaria, Germany. An intelligent man named Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik had a goal to offer athletes durable and efficient footwear. The famous three stripes shoe brand came to existence on August 1949. New methods of distribution and production have arisen ever since the evolution of shoes. Adidas has become a popular shoe brand because of their not only comfortable footwear selection, but accessible shoes. In 2011 Adidas introduced an innovating new running shoe design, which they named themEnergy Boost. This was the beginning of a new running shoe era that provided exceptional cushioning support. Adidas’ goal was to offer athletes a new running experience. The new Ultraboosts caught popularity because of its stylish design and its comfortable out of this world cushioning. As with any company, following company success is the eventual need to produce more. The net energy consumption of Adidas shoes has increased greatly with the increase of consumerism. With an increase in consumerism comes a drastic shift in the market which requires the evolution of new methods of production which inevitable require more energy consumption. Eventually, with this shift comes the inevitable negative effect on our natural environment. Therefore, Adidas Co has focused on finding new methods of producing their signature shoe the Ultraboost. Adidas is using new materials like parley to limit their pollution effect on the environment.
Adidas’ main focus was, and still remains on keeping up with high demand and still aiming to limit their negative effects on the environment. In 2015 Adidas introduced their new Parley Ultraboosts that still possessed boost cushioning and primeknit shell. The parley Ultraboost has various forms of materials that come together and make the stylish eco-friendly shoe. The most common materials that make up the shoe are recycled rubber, recycled polyester, and organic cotton.The midsole is also made up of hundreds of tiny beads of super-springy thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). In addition, eleven plastic bottles are fished out of the ocean to make the shoe. Using recycled plastics from our oceans helps limit the negative effect on the ecosystem.
Total energy consumption has always increased with the increase of consumerism, mainly as a result of companies producing more products to keep up with high demand. Adidas has focused on finding alternative methods in which they can supply consumers with the best quality products but still help minimize the carbon footprint on our environment. With this, companies like Adidas are producing more, so they need to change both their production methods and their environmental footprint. In 2008 average energy consumption/pair (kWh/pair) was 2.76. The size of the site also contributes to how much energy is used. The Adidas footwear factory in Scheinfeld, Germany consumption was 12,683,749 (kWh/year). Adidas has been way ahead of the game in regards to environmental sustainability when compared to its competitors. They partnered with a conservation group that provides parley derived from the ocean. Adidas has taken action to limit their CO2 emissions by setting up a new sustainability plan. Their sustainability report states that their plan involves cutting their emissions by three percent annually, and with this, they have created an eKPI 2.0 programmer to set targets in all three energy, waste, and water. They hope to reach their twenty percent energy-saving target by 2020. The company has also focused on receiving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for their new projects. Having LEED certification will ensure that the company’s sites are energy-efficient and eco-friendly. Adidas has also focused on a system called IMS (Integrated Management system) in hopes to tackle the negative impact of climate change at their facilities. The objective that Adidas is trying to carry out is indirectly aimed at other companies in hopes that they will also take action and follow the methods employed by them. Kasper Rorsted, CEO of Adidas stated the following:
“We are one of the very few companies that integrate sustainability into their business model, which becomes most visible in the fact that we take sustainability to the product level. But we do not stop there. We not only see sustainability as an opportunity to get a competitive advantage. We see it as an obligation for us as a global company to do business in a responsible and sustainable way.”
This is a step in the right direction, Adidas is revolutionizing and taking initiative. Shifting to the production of the world-famous Parley Ultraboost is interesting. The shift to using new materials that help fix the environmental damage already caused by consumerism is evolutionary, but a small-scale change sometimes does not drastically change the huge environmental effect already caused by companies such as Adidas. In 2015 Adidas announced that they would be shifting to intelligent robotic technology, which is a new tech which planned to help reduce their environmental impact. Adidas and Parley has not be able to produce the shoes in high supplies because their designs are still prototypes. Although this might indeed be the case, the conservation group Parley has made progress with their production and extraction of ocean plastics. Kinetic energy is used from the removal of plastics out of the ocean by using different devices that collect all kinds of waste. Once they acquire the plastic from the oceans, they sort it and clean it. This also requires human labor work so the energy being used is chemical. After they put all the sorted plastic into containers they send it to their facilities. Fossil fuels are used to power the container carriers and trucks. After the extraction of the materials, they are sent to production factories. In 2015 total energy consumption was 34,821(MWh) at their own production sites. The plastic is then engineered into a durable yarn, which is later made into fabric. The end product is Parley. The second main ingredient that goes into the making of the Ultraboost is the boost midsole. Infinergy is processed differently compared to other materials. Foam is inserted in a molding machine which uses kinetic energy to form a lighter and springier material. The molding machine also uses thermal energy to press together the pre-foamed particles. Once the main materials are gathered, it is now time to design the shoe. Parley Ultraboost can come in different designs depending on the producer. The cold cement shoe assembly is commonly used by Adidas because it uses low temperatures to bond the components. A Strobel's bottom is used to make the shoe more flexible and lighter. The different parts are assembled and then steamed together. The energy being used here is kinetic and thermal. The shoes are then later packaged, labeled and ready for distribution.
One thing that has not changed throughout the years is their methods of distribution, and the delivery method employed by Adidas to deliver their products to their consumers. The energy used varies from different types of distribution. Once the shoes made, it is time to get the product to the consumers. The energy used by distribution is quite significant. A dated study showed that in 2003 the transportation sector accounted for twenty-seven percent of the world energy consumption. This has increased at a steady rate. A 2015 study showed that total energy consumption of their distribution centres was 75,640 (MWh). Three methods of getting a product to a location are by air, water, or land. Adidas uses airplanes to get their products across long distances in a short time. Airplanes use non-renewable energy resources like crude oil or in other words petroleum. Based on the consumption per ATK (Available Ton-Kilometer) the industry has been able to drastically lower the fuel consumption in the last forty years. Distribution by water is also another method companies like Adidas utilize. Container ships use bunker oil which is the residue of crude oil. Container ships are big polluters since it uses dirty oil for energy. To show how damaging they are to the environment, one massive container ship pollutes equally to fifty million cars. Lastly is by land, trucks are the most commonly used method of distribution. They use gasoline or diesel depending on the size of the truck. All three use primary energy sources which are non-renewable and cause CO2 emissions. It is difficult to limit the negative footprint that distribution has on the ecosystem because fossil fuel is more accessible and effective than other types of energy sources.
Once the life of the Parley Ultraboost has come to an end, Adidas has focused on creating a closed loop product. In 2012 they launched a program called sustainable footprint, it is a voluntary recycling program in which Adidas takes back damaged shoes. They usually take the products into the secondhand market or recycle them into secondary raw materials. The energy being used is both kinetic and thermal. There is also a small percentage of shoes that are not recycled, so they disposed of. This recycling process helps the environment and reduces Adidas’ negative footprint.
The energy usage of Adidas shoes has shifted massively, Adidas has focused on how they can limit the damage they do to the environment. The overall cycle of parley Ultraboost has been a step in the correct direction that many companies can learn from. The energy cycle of Parley Ultraboost is efficient and good for the environment. Although this might be the case there will always be an increase in general energy usage. Many companies need to learn how to limit their energy consumption and CO2 emission. Adidas has tried to revolutionize their methods of production but still lack in the distribution aspect. It is important to limit energy use because sooner or later the planet will fail to sustain our society. Fossil fuels are damaging the ecosystem so big companies like Adidas need to take action and change. Consumerism will not stop and energy consumptions will continue to rise.
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28 November 2018
Waste and Pollution of Parley x Adidas Ocean Plastic Ultraboost Life Cycle Analysis
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “ An LSA [Life Cycle Assessment] is a comprehensive method for assessing a range of environmental impacts across the full life cycle of a product system, from materials acquisition to manufacturing, use, and final disposition.” The life cycle can be viewed through three lenses: The life cycle assessment can be viewed through three lenses: The energy, the raw materials, and the waste. The waste is not only what is left over when the final product is discarded; it is an all encompassing view of waste produced from every process used to make product. One particularly interesting product is a pair of Parley x Adidas running shoes. Parley is an organization with a mission to clean up ocean plastic and upcycle it. Although Parley and Adidas are doing an outstanding job cleaning up waste from other products and using ocean plastic to create shoes reduces waste in our oceans, the waste produced in the process of assembling and transporting these sneakers is equally important to consider. A few main areas that contribute to the waste in this process are the waste from electricity used, the waste from transporting products, and the waste from converting and using recycled plastic in the final product.
The creation of the electricity, used by the factories and machines that create Parley recycled plastic yarn and adidas shoes, makes some harmful byproducts. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any specific research on my product, but many others have researched electricity and its costs in a general way. I have combined research from a variety of sources in order to give a rough view of how electricity impacts the creation of Parley x Adidas running shoes. The most important component of these shoes is the recycled plastic yarn that goes into each shoe. Alibaba is a popular chinese business to business sales website which has details about hundreds of machines for shoe production. I found a similar machine that might be used in the factory Adidas sources from to transform recycled plastic into yarn. According to the product details, One machine uses “85 KW” per hour to produce 50 kg of material (2018). The machine was not specifically marketed to produce yarn for clothing but I am making the assumption that a machine like this can produce the same material Adidas uses. Carnegie Mellon’s website claims that for a power plant running at 33% efficiency “we need 450 grams coal for 1 KWh of electricity” (2003). If we agree with these assumptions, this machine alone uses 38.25 kg of coal every hour. This number may not be so alarming but let’s take a look at an Adidas factory’s power consumption.
Adidas is a aware of the importance of sustainability so they are an open book when it comes to the life cycles of their products. In a “sustainability report,” they show their footwear factory in Germany uses “1,578,340 kwh/y.” Using Carnegie Mellon’s assumptions again we can assume that Adidas’ footwear factory uses 710,253 kgs of coal each year. In addition the same factory also creates “260.2” tons of physical waste each year (2008). To finally get to the issue at hand, burning coal is harmful. The U.S. Energy Information Administration explains that coal produces such chemical compounds as, “Carbon dioxide (CO2), Carbon monoxide (CO), Sulfur dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), Particulate matter (PM), [and] Heavy metals such as mercury.” Each of these compound has its own side effect; they include deteriorating the ozone, causing acid rain, and hazard to human and animal health. The EIA also notes that “electricity generation is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.” They estimate it to be around 40% of the energy related CO2 in the United States (2017). Notice, that the Adidas footwear factory uses enough electricity to warnet over 700,000 kgs of coal to be burned, all generating harmful aforementioned byproducts. From the information I have gathered, it seems quite clear that the reusing of ocean plastic of Parley x Adidas Ultraboost still comes with the price of emissions caused by creating electricity to power a typical adidas factory . Electricity production and use has long been inefficient and is dying for an innovation that can capture the energy lost to heat. The heart of the Parley initiative is pure, but waste from electrical energy alone casts a dim light on the noble effort to clean up our increasingly bottle-ridden ocean. Another overlooked portion of the waste lense in a life cycle analysis is the transportation of internally and externally.
The process of transporting raw materials and products creates a tremendous amount of harmful waste. Adidas and Parley are responsible for for the shipment of raw materials to the factory; once products are assembled they are also responsible for transporting their shoes to a to warehouse for holding. In order to ship large quantities Adidas uses three main modes of transportation: sea freight, trucks, and air freight. According to the reports Adidas has published, in 2008 they maintained a shipping mix of 96% of footwear by sea freight, 2% by truck, and 2% by air freights (2008). Each of these methods of shipment, similar to electricity use, come with a certain level of emissions from burning fossil fuels. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acknowledges that “aviation emissions affect both air quality and the global climate.” Although aviation is “a relatively small contributor to emissions of concern for both air quality and climate change,” the emissions “occur in the climatically sensitive upper troposphere and lower stratosphere where they may have a disproportionate impact on climate.” CO2, which is released by burning fossil fuels, accounts for 70% of the exhaust from airlines. The rest is almost entirely water vapor asided form less than 1% being gross-pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides (2015). Adidas only shipped 2% of footwear by air freight in 2008 so this accounts for a very small amount of the waste that they are making.
Adidas’ most widely used shipping method for their footwear is sea freight. Unfortunately I was unable to find any government or academic sources outlining the waste that accompanies this method of shipping. Instead I used Oceana, an international organization with a long list of academics on its council and a driven mission is to protect the oceans. According to Oceana’s information of shipping pollution, ships emit “various global warming pollutants, including black carbon (BC), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and nitrous oxide (N2O),” along with CO2 (2018). Unlike the FAA they do not detail to what percent these chemicals are produced. I can not confidently relate the ratio of pollutants from aviation to sea shipment due to the difference in combustion processes while converting fossil fuels. I would more closely compare sea freight to trucking, Adidas’ third transportation method. Automobile exhaust is a “significant source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions” (Marr, 3093). Like air freight Adidas allocates very few of its shipments to trucking, meaning that this is not a significant factor in the waste portion of an Adidas x Parley Ultraboost life cycle. Sea freighting is highlighted as the largest method by far for Adidas to ship. When answering frequently asked questions they briefly acknowledge that the transportations cost may outweigh the benefit. After being asked if “the pollution caused by transporting the plastic waste to Taiwan not outweigh the benefits of collecting it in the first place?” During a Q&A, they responded: “Our primary focus is combatting plastic pollution,” and “we are working with our partners at Parley for the Oceans on increasing the number of plastic collection points in an effort to steadily reduce transport distances and the environmental impact of the production process.” It is relieving to see that Adidas is making improvement to combat issues with waste from shipping. Transportation clearly leads to an abundant amount of hazardous waste; the waste from the recycled plastic thread is not so clearly negative.
Using recycled plastic as thread leads to some benefits and some concerns regarding waste. Plastic is a revolutionary material that has made the creation of countless innovations and creations possible. Knowing the boundless opportunity present in plastic’s cost and moldability what is to stop producers from making everything out of plastic? The answer is the waste and hazards. Plastics do not biodegrade, therefore one they are chemically manifested, they are very hard to get rid of. When “55 plastic polymers were ranked based on monomer classifications, and assessed,” the most hazardous have a “large market share and are made of mutagenic and/or carcinogenic monomers” (Lithner, 3312). When creating their shoes in collaboration with Parley, Adidas is avoiding virgin polyester and opting for recycled plastics. Adidas says this switch “reduces our dependency on petroleum, allows us to discharge less waste and and reduces toxic emissions from incinerators” (2018). Adidas is defending the switch to recycled plastic with the basis that it will eliminate the need to use more petroleum to create virgin polyester. Using less fossil fuels it great because that means less greenhouse gases and hazardous waste on combustion.
The production of a Primeknit shoe like the Adidas x Parley Ultraboost includes sewing and knitting; hence the name Primeknit. This process leads to its own concentration of waste, but it seems much more promising than the alternative. Traditionally shoe shae been created by cutting large sheets of fabric into a usable pattern. This would leave “30% or more material to be discarded.” Companies including Adidas have approached this issue with the Primeknit solution. The introduction of knitted uppers has reduced the wasted raw materials by 80% (Shah 2018). The Ultraboost silhouette created by Adidas, is a sneaker that uses this Primeknit technology. In regards to the life cycle analysis of the Adidas x Parley Ultraboost, this is a great decrease in the waste created during the production stage. It is a great benefit that Adidas is now mixing Primeknit with recycled plastic yarn.
Using synthetics from recycled plastic sounds like the ultimate substitute for standard polyester. Unfortunately, the shoes all go to the same place and there is a downside when it comes to the waste-while-worn these products cause. This is because “every time a synthetic garment — one made of manmade rather than natural fibers — goes through the spin and rinse cycle in a washing machine, it sheds a large number of plastic fibers.” Most washing machines don’t have fine enough filters to catch the tiny particles and neither do sewage plants (Alberts 2014). Luckily most people do not put their shoes in the washing machine. This means that these tiny plastic fibers are breaking off and floating into the air never to be seen again. Additionally at the end of the line these shoes will end up in the same place as any other old shoe does. The four main options for a shoe at the end of its life (EoL). These are: “landfill, incineration/gasification, reuse and recycling.” Landfills are costly and don’t solve the problem of waste just ignore it. Incineration creates toxic emissions. Reuse is a good solution but only postpones the EoL for a later date. The absolute best option for the end of life is recycling. This process gives a worn out product new life in a multifaceted approach that can create insulation, concrete filler, and even more shoes (Shah 2017).
The life cycle assessment of Parley x Adidas shoes reveals an interesting side of recycling and the waste that can be involved. During this paper many instances in the life cycle of an Adidas x Parley Ultraboost were clearly producers of waste. Waste from processes like fossil fuel recovery (oil mining) and human waste from factory workers should be considered when thinking about the life cycle of an Adidas x Parley Ultraboost. Sometimes the cost of recycling a product outweighs the benefit. In the case of Parley and Adidas Ultraboost it is clear which it is in its current state. Adidas claims that each shoe eliminates 11 bottles from the ocean and they have already produced over 1 million shoes (2018). If we assume that they have cleared 11 million bottles in just about two years then it is likely that they can make some changes to transportation and electricity consumption, this can become a very impressive and sustainable initiative. Technology must advance and create lifelong solutions to these decade long problems.
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