FAQ




I think a lot of people like to poke holes in the concept of zero waste, same as they like to tell me celiac disease is fake, or that I wasn't born in the United States. The intent is not to sound preachy, self righteous, or extreme. We all produce waste. Blogging is wasteful. Living in post-industrial society is wasteful. Instead of nitpicking or worrying about things we can't change, we just try to live as responsibly as we can, and help others who want to do the same. For general blog FAQ, questions about water only, my routine, etc., scroll down. More questions? Check out the archive tab or search bar above and see all posts by title here.


ZERO WASTE FAQS


What is zero waste? What do you consider waste?

Definitions vary, but zero waste doesn't really mean "zero." It's aspirational. Like, nobody goes to a flea market thinking they're going to buy fleas- they go to buy artisanal soaps and braided plant hangers. Zero waste goes beyond what we individually send to landfill, including recycling, energy, water, and food waste. Typically, zero waste is an industrial term for a consumer movement encouraging manufacturers to eliminate single use items and non-biodegradable materials. The aim is to push towards a circular economy and increase demand for package-free products or reclaimable packaging.

People blog and post about zero waste to heighten awareness about unsustainable consumption and show how people from different backgrounds or locations with varying circumstances are reducing their impact. I still buy some things in packaging, and I can't avoid plastic entirely, but I don't feel excessive eco guilt when I make garbage, or engage in any hand wringing. Waste is inevitable, and it has its place.

Is it hygienic?

Zero waste should always take a backseat to health and safety concerns. However, the idea that paper towels, antibacterial hand sanitizers, conventional cleaners, and disposables are more hygienic than zero waste alternatives isn't necessarily true. Disposables can spread infectious diseases via waste disposal and collection, and viruses remain viable in landfills. Plasticizers in single use wrapping are potential endocrine disrupters- DEHT is one well-documented example. Most studies don't indicate decreased incidence of pathogens or disease when comparing antibacterial liquids to soap and water. Other household products emit VOCs or contain flammable, explosive petroleum distillates that can be extremely dangerous, even fatal, if ingested and potentially damaging to the brain, central nervous system, liver, kidneys, etc. It all makes a little bit of bacteria- effectively removed with vinegar / hot water / a good soap scrubbing- seem not so bad after all.

Do zero waste products work as well as packaged?

Most people think homemade food tastes better and fresher than convenience foods. To see how cleaning, laundry, and beauty products work in zero waste households, just check any of the sparkling homes of zero waste bloggers. Giving up shampoos and facial cleansers cleared my skin and fixed my hair, and our apartment is cleaner and clothes nicer when I use vinegar and soap than when my husband uses expensive conventional cleaners. Studies indicate physical removal of bacteria is preferable chemical inactivation anyway. 

When you buy in bulk or eat out, don't the bulk shops / markets / restaurants produce waste?  

Yes. I count this as part of the waste I produce, though I don't get anxious about all waste on the distribution level. The point is reducing individual or consumer impact on landfill waste. Many bulk shops get items shipped in large plastic bags (some still use cloth bags), but isn't that less wasteful than lots of tiny packages? Often these stores have access to recycling facilities consumers don't, and in many locales, are legally required to recycle materials. France, for instance, prohibits grocery stores from wasting food. It's a myth that zero wasters always eat out, too- I cook at least 90% of meals at home. The market stalls I frequent transport produce, grown just outside Paris, in wooden crates for display in wicker baskets, using waste-minimizing growing methods. When we do go to a restaurant, it's usually a zero waste place like Freegan Pony, La Recyclerie, Mûre, or Institut de Bonté.

What if you refuse products that were prepared in advance for you (like airplane food)? Don't they still end up in the landfill?

Every time I fly American Airlines, they don't have food for me. Just try telling them you have to eat gluten free and vegan and they totally forget about you! When I fly, I write airlines in advance requesting no meal. If not, everyone inevitably generates some waste, so I don't sweat it. Not all airlines will refill my reusable bottle, either, and I can't go through a flight without water. Be reasonable. If enough people ask, things may change eventually.

What about receipts? 

Not all places print receipts. When I have the option to email or forgo a receipt, I do; otherwise, I take the receipt with me and count it as part of my trash. Most secondhand shops and markets I go to use digital accounting systems, so they don't print paper receipts. Some cities recycle thermal receipts- since they contain BPA, don't put them in recycling bins unless explicitly allowed. I learned accidentally that BPA-laden receipts break down quickly in a compost, but haven't studied bioremediation of BPA-contaminated soil. If you do accidentally compost receipts, it's best not to use the resulting soil around food.

Isn't it more expensive to repair and tailor items than buy things new?

On the consumer end, sometimes, in the short term, yes. On the production and resource side, it's far more costly to buy new- especially in terms of the human and ethical cost. I repair appliances until they're not fixable anymore, but I have a bad habit of selling clothes if the cost of tailoring is too high. I buy almost everything secondhand instead of new, though.

What's better: secondhand or ethical / sustainable items? What about buying online?

These are personal decisions to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. I like secondhand because nothing uses less resources than something that already exists. At the same time, it's important to support ethical or organic brands. Some argue it takes more carbon to ship a compostable bamboo toothbrush, but I feel that's better than a plastic toothbrush that doesn't decompose. If I purchase online, I buy from retailers like Reformation, Swedish Stockings, Etsy sellers, or Zooplus, who ship without plastic, using paper tape and the least amount of packaging possible. Amazon also has frustration free packaging. The last eBay seller I bought from shipped jeans in a tiny reused Madewell mailer, which I used to sell items on Vestiaire Collective. When I end up with plastic or styrofoam packing materials, I reuse them.  

Doesn't washing reusables use more water and resources than disposables? Aren't disposables more environmentally friendly than reusables?

No. The embodied energy of reusables is often higher. Life cycle energy analyses factoring in pollution from production and disposal of disposables, transportation, water inputs, the volume of disposables required, and landfill capacities generally find reusables to be lower carbon and the best value choice. If you buy reusables secondhand, it's a no brainer. At any rate, I think spending more energy to make something that's useful forever is better than using something once, tossing it, and having it emit methane in a landfill indefinitely.

How do you deal with feminine hygiene? Dental floss? Where do you find vinegar unpackaged?

Here's a rundown of reusable options. Short answer, a lot of women use the cup. I also have a GladRags day and night pad- you can compost the packaging in an industrial composter. I use siwak (miswak) like floss UPDATE: I now use Dental Lace, Noosa Basics is a vegan alternative. Any arguments about the efficacy of ancient methods don't hold up because when the bristles separate, you can use it between teeth just as with nylon floss, and siwak actually whitens (turmeric and activated charcoal are other natural tooth whiteners).  Bea Johnson uses silk unraveled from something used and other people use horse hair, Ecodent, Radius, Vömel, Stimudent, Bryton picks, interdental brushes, water piks... my dentist like water piks in addition to some sort of interdental brush or floss. I've never had a cavity, so I trust him. If you don't have bulk vinegars (Paris has lots of places, and so does Cleveland- Fresh Thyme has the best selection), make your own. It's really easy, cheap, and foolproof- the hardest part for me is getting enough apple scraps to make a batch. I eat all of mine! You could also use lemons or plain soap and water.

How do you freeze things without plastic?

Glass jars, if you don't fill them the whole way, freeze really well and protect against freezer burn. My grandparents used stainless steel their whole lives though (you can get them at places like H Mart for cheap), even when they had iceboxes! I always keep ice cream and soup frozen in Weck or Ball jars and it's fine.

Don't you use toilet paper?

No, I use soap and water- it's healthier and more hygienic. Toilet paper can contain BPA and is associated with various infections and health problems. I still buy toilet paper for my husband and guests. I bought Who Gives a Crap for my guests to use, and bought a Tushy bidet for my family's house.

How do you manage water only washing / no poo with hard water? I'm experiencing flakes / hair loss / greasiness / waxy patches. How long will the transition period be?

All of these questions are answered in detail here, here, and here. That's everything I can tell you about water only without seeing your hair or knowing more about your diet, stress levels, etc. I encourage you to check out Reddit No Poo, Just Primal Things, or the No Poo Livejournal for further experiences. You don't have to be water only to be zero waste, however. I've listed many alternatives here.


MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS


Zero wasters don't have jobs / social lives / partners or children. 

A lot of zero waste bloggers work full time, and many are parents. When I started zero waste, I was working two jobs (one full time, one an internship) while going to school full time. I currently work full time in an office at a Fortune 500 company, have a social life, am married, etc. I never tell people I'm zero waste, vegan or gluten free unless they ask. I prefer to just do my own thing, and in general, the people in my life adopt their own zero waste switches when they realize they make sense. Check out Rebecca's post to see how two parents work full time while raising two zero waste kids under five. Click here to see how to go zero waste even if your roommates / partners / parents are not.

Zero wasters carry their trash around in a jar. 

I don't. As Celia notes, it's misleading, and doesn't account for energy / resource waste or recycling. When you're first starting out, it's helpful to see what trash you're making and figure out how to eliminate it. It's nice having a goal to work towards and keep yourself accountable, but it can be disheartening and breed a spirit of competition if your trash doesn't fit the 1L standard. 

Zero wasters let other people (producers, retailers) deal with their waste by leaving all their trash at the store. 

A lot of people think I leave receipts or shoeboxes at shops for some reason. I buy secondhand, so I don't always get shoeboxes, but when I do, I keep them for storage. It increases the retail value of shoes if I ever sell them. See above for a receipt explanation.

They're all lying. 

Waste is a relatively modern invention- people lived zero waste for thousands of years! If it worked for our grandparents, it can work for us, only we have the added advantage of research and hindsight to keep us healthy. There are very few things we use today that cannot be replaced with a zero waste alternative

They throw away all their old plastic to buy new stuff. 

Most zero wasters recommend using up all your old disposables and plastics before replacing them with sustainable alternatives. I had the advantage of starting zero waste when I owned nothing, so I had no choice but to buy or Freecycle the glass and cloth things I own now (mostly purchased secondhand). 


Zero wasters spend all their time making things. 

I make food, and that's about it. You don't have to make deodorant or toothpaste- just use baking soda or a lemon slice. Instead of making laundry detergent, use soap. Instead of whipping up lotion, try oil. Use gram flour, clay, or water only instead of shampoo. There are lots of one ingredient solutions that don't require hours of labor. Not that making things takes so much time- remember when Monica made all that jam and still had time to go to the coffee shop and cryobank?

You can only be zero waste if you live in a place with bulk stores. It's easy if you live in a city / impossible if you live in a city. It's more expensive.

I didn't live in a place with a bulk shop or farmer's market until moving to Paris, and even now I don't usually shop bulk bins. You can buy unpackaged fruits and vegetables from most supermarkets, spiralize vegetables instead of pastas, make gnocchi from leftover mashed potatoes, ask for meats and cheeses in your own jars, and purchase breads from small bakeries in your own bags. Buy recyclables when you have to (Eden Organics and Native Forest, for instance, offer BPA, BPS, BPF and BADGE non intent cans with oleoresin linings), or liquids in returnable bottles, if available. Don't worry if you have to buy packaged items. I didn't, but I did ask store managers for more unpackaged options, and now my tiny hometown offers bulk olive oils, peanut butters, gluten free pasta, etc. You can also buy in the largest quantities available to reduce individual packaging waste. I personally recommend buying vinegar in big plastic jugs instead of little glass bottles, which are expensive and actually result in more emissions. As for beauty products, there are plenty available in paper, metal, bamboo, or cardboard packaging. Etsy, Elate, Credo, Follain, Urb Apothecary, Ilia Beauty, Zao, and Clean Faced Cosmetics are just a few sources I can think of off the top of my head- even Goop ships plastic free. Lots of zero waste bloggers live in the city, in the countryside, by the beach, on farms, etc. I lived in a suburb when I first started. There are options wherever you live (click here for a list of bulk stores in the US, scroll down for bulk Paris locations), if you really want to try- and no matter where you are, you can always simply say no to a plastic straw or paper napkin. You can probably also compost, too- check your county website for a list of industrial composters or Google community composts / compost pickup for your city, if you live in an apartment or don't have a yard. And it's not more expensive.

With a 28 item wardrobe, you must be doing laundry all the time.

Nope. I wash my sheets, towels, and underwear weekly, but you shouldn't be washing these items any less frequently anyway, regardless of how many multiples you have. I wash most clothes once a month and some wool items / coats, shoes, and my purse once a season. The more clothing you have, the more laundry you'll do. Click here for tips on reducing laundry and extending time between washes.


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ABOUT ME


Who are you?

I used to live in Paris with my native Parisian ex and two cats. I've written for or been featured in The Guardian, Apartment Therapy, ELLE.com, MIXT(E) Magazine, Buzzfeed, and One Green Planet; been a delegate at events like COP21 and the Responsible Business Development Forum in Singapore, and worked with brands like Airbnb, Alcoa, Hilton, and World Wildlife Fund, among others. Since starting Paris To Go in April 2014, this site received over 4 million page views, averaging 120,000 page views and 30,000+ visitors per month.

Are you vegan? What are some of your favorite vegan recipes?

Plant based. I wear secondhand leather, wool, and have a secondhand camel coat. I would never buy these materials new, but I don't want other living beings killed or exploited for new clothes when so many garments exist secondhand. I avoid palm oil and only use vegan cosmetics. I love Mama Eats Plants' easy zero waste, vegan meal plans for quick meals and weeknights, and I take ideas from Minimalist Baker recipes but find the measurements are a little off for me. Going Zero Waste also has tons of great recipes, shopping guides, and meal plans for everything!

Where do you buy your food / secondhand clothes? How do you shop? Isn't it heavy carrying around all those jars? How do you find secondhand designer items?

Here is a list of my favorite dépôt-ventes in Paris, here is a zero waste shopping guide to Paris, and here is a list of my favorite food markets by day, including a complete map of all the marché volants by arrondissement. I don't normally shop bulk bins because of celiac disease, but there are lots of certified gluten free bins these days, and the kinds with the lever (not the scoop) are usually fine for me. When I was in Paris, I didn't buy much online but I used to like The Real Real for specific clothing items (now I prefer Poshmark). Shopping online is typically better in terms of emissions, however. When I started zero waste, I lived in a small town with no farmer's markets or bulk stores, so it's completely possible to shop zero waste if you don't live in a city! I just went to the supermarket (there was only one) and asked them to put everything in my own containers. They ended up carrying unpackaged soap, bulk options, etc (see my Instagram for a video on zero waste shopping- basically I tare the jars at the store, take a photo of the weight, fill my container, and they take off the tare at the register. It doesn't take long at all, and in seven years of zero waste, only one person has ever said no to me... and a few days later they said yes). I only carry two jars or one lightweight stainless steel container at once, though. I didn't have a car in Paris and carried around my stuff all day, so I got used to buying only a few liquid items at a time and placing dried goods in cloth bags, which weigh nothing. Since I'm vegan, I don't have much use for jars outside the home- at most, I shop once or twice a week, and I purchase some pantry items only once a month or once a year. As for designer clothes, I go to well-edited stores only and I trained myself to spot good fabric and finishing. I don't look specifically for designer labels, but I look for fabrics and colors I like that work with my wardrobe. Check the wardrobe tab above for more specific recommendations. You have to be very patient though. It took me years to find the clothes I have now.


What products do you use to clean your apartment? 

Check out my zero waste cleaning post here. Here is my laundry routine. All my zero waste posts are written with busy people, who don't have time to make everything, in mind. I make nothing (except food and hemp milk). Instead of recipes, this site focuses on one-ingredient zero waste alternatives working professionals, students, rural residents etc. can buy and use right away. The posts are not necessarily prescriptive- local availability differs from person to person- but I hope you take the principles and adapt them to your own situation. For specific tips on cleaning with pets, click here.


What do you use to take / edit your photos?

All photos are taken with  my phone or iPad.  I don't stage photos because I'm bad at it and I'm not going to put dirty shoes and stuff on my bed anyways. I want to stay true to the values of sustainability and simplicity, so I don't feel the need to buy a DSLR or Photoshop graphics. Also I'm lazy. I know this because of how frequently I wake up still wearing jeans.


Can you show me around Paris?

Please refer to the Paris link above for recommendations. Click here for my Paris city guide and here for a list of places to stay. For gluten-free restaurants, see the Gluten-free category.


What do you do about toilet paper?

This is a question my ex got all the time. He used toilet paper. I use soap and water at home but toilet paper at work or out of the house. I use a Tushy bidet at my family's home (my Korean relatives have fancy Daewoo toilets that spray water and perfume and soap and stuff- they're getting more popular in some French restaurants, but I still only saw like two bidets in peoples' homes when I lived there). For more details or any personal care questions, please check the Beauty category from the drop down menu above. 


Why do you eat gluten-free? 

It's not a choice. I have celiac disease. I had it before it became trendy, though (in 1989).




Paris to Go

23 comments:

  1. This post was written for me !

    If you are taking more questions, here is one to add to the list :

    " Do you make all the decisions on buying products based on packaging ? "
    This was my major concern when I started looking into it. I used to look at folks who said ' I like the packing and I bought it' and write them off as stupid. And it felt like I was doing the same when I started phasing out plastic.

    Thank you for this post.

    Also, we can look back into the lives of our grandparents who lived in much tougher times and had none of the conveniences that produce all this trash for inspiration.

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    1. Archana, you already defend zero waste so much, and you are so good about reducing waste in all aspects of your life, I didn't even think this post was written for you! It was more for the people who commented on The Guardian article, lol, which resulted in lots of emails saying it's impossible and I eat out a lot of the time and leave my shoeboxes. Of course I love questions!

      I do consider packaging every time I buy something- it's not the only factor, but I consider it. Even for my husband, he has his favorite brands of deodorant and toothpaste that I still buy, but I buy it in the recyclable aluminum instead of the plastic size. I stopped buying certain things because of the packaging- juice for instance- and made purchases to avoid packaging (more whole fruit, food processor, spiralizer- although the spiralizer was a gift from my uncle actually). I was the same type of person- I bought things that were in pretty packages, although only if I needed something first. I hope this makes sense and answers the question. Some purchases I can't base my decision on packaging alone- I really need it, and it doesn't come in sustainable packaging, so I buy it regardless- like toilet paper for guests and my husband. I never NOT buy something I truly need simply because it doesn't come in glass or paper packaging (medicine is one example).

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    2. Actually, all the myths scared me. Over your previous posts, I have been asking questions and been getting answers which helped me a lot.

      Also, I realized there are SO MANY options out there that is it not that hard to find a product that ticks all the boxes.

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  2. I realize this is a little off topic, but do you have a gnocchi recipe or ratio of ingredients that you'd recommend?

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    1. Hi Cassie, this may not be so helpful, but I use this one: http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/3896 There is no ratio in the recipe itself, but in the comments. I personally add flour tablespoon by tablespoon until it feels right- it works with any gluten free flour.

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    2. Wonderful, thank you so much!

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  3. I love your blog because you use words like pedantic.

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    1. You are too funny Tracy! I love your comments :)

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  4. Yay for Zero Waste, or in my case a small enough amount of waste to make most people say that I am silly. Have you made fruit vinegar? I eat copious amounts of fruit, even pickling watermelon rinds a few times. I would love to make vinegar for cleaning, as I go through about a gallon every week or two. Does it lose all of its sugar content during fermentation? Sticky floors after all that work would be very disappointing.

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    1. Hi Amber, how are you? And how are the cats? I'm not sure how it works with other types of fruit but the apple vinegar recipe from Zero Waste Chef is fabulous for cleaning and the smell is not too strong (unlike store-bought apple vinegar). No sticky residue here- yet. I've used other types of vinegar from a shop called En Vrac here and they use various fruits and I haven't seen any stickiness so far, or bugs for that matter! Pickled watermelon rinds sound delicious.

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  5. Love this SO much! I think some bloggers are a little coy about how they do zero waste & they keep some aspects mysterious, which leads to tons of confusion. You break things down really well, here and in all your posts. (And thanks for the shoutout!)

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    1. Hi Celia! I thought you said it so perfectly. When I first started zero waste I just wanted someone to detail every little thing about where they shop and what brands were ok and how the made things, lol. And I couldn't find it. So I try to explain everything and be transparent here!

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  6. I love all of your information! It really makes me think about my stuff and why I am attached to my stuff and how much stuff do I really need; that being said I am a stuff girl. (I am trying to figure out how to use stuff one more time haha) Books (95% are bought second hand) seem to be my main problem, I gave away a pair of shoes in Paris so I had more room for books in my suitcase. I hope you are having a lovely weekend.

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    1. Thank you so much Tonette! Well books are a good thing to hang on to I think. As long as they don't overtake your life haha. And Paris is the best place to get them! Which books did you pick up? I hope you have a great weekend too :) You are so sweet <3

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    2. Books have most defiantly taken over my life, but I love everything about them, so it doesn't feel like I am suffocated; plus I am the go to girl if you need a book. What I bought in Paris: a book about Marie Antoinette, a couple from the Louvre, one about Notre Dame (in fairness I bought it for my dad), several about Versailles, and one more that eludes me at the moment. I also bought books in England and Scotland, plus I took pictures of books and put them on my Christmas list. I worry more about what books to pack then what clothes to pack and I have donated shoes and clothes in at least four countries to make room for my love of literature.

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    3. Those are awesome souvenirs! Much better than a keychain that'll break or a magnet you'll never use. That is so cool!

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  7. Ariana, what do you do at festivals where you cannot bring stainless steel or a mason jar? In the US it's difficult to bring them into some venues because they are considered a weapon.

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    1. A bamboo cup or, if alcoholic beverages must be in a clear container, I think clear HDPE plastic may be helpful, since it can be reused over and over again instead of disposed of after one use.

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  8. Great post as always. You mention an advantage of cleaning towels and handkerchiefs -- that the pathogens will not sit in the garbage and later a landfill. But doesn't this mean they simply enter the water supply? I know groundwater naturally filters itself to some degree, but with your background in science I thought maybe you could explain more thoroughly the advantage of pathogens in wastewater vs. landfills.

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    1. Hi Anika! Thank you! When you wash them you kill bacteria and germs. It's better to wash them with something like vinegar to sanitize more effectively. Some doctors say to wash them at 60° or above to kill everything; others say you can throw them in with the normal wash. It's no different than when we wash our hands, shower, wash our underwear, and use the bathroom- in most places the water is treated, whereas landfill waste is never treated.

      There's research suggesting that some pharmaceuticals persist in the water supply though, and that we haven't yet developed sufficient techniques to get rid of them.

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    2. Oh... and endocrine disruptors! Personal care products, it's suggested, remain to some extent in the water supply, because they're hard to treat.

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    3. And... synthetic clothing: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads Last comment I promise :)

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    4. No, thank you! The detailed answer is much appreciated. :)

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