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amberskyfire in naturalfamily

Why I Don't Allow Plastic Toys Into Our Home

Because there is a lot of recent talk about Barbies and plastic toys, I decided to write up a letter in the form of an article to give to our family members. I took a lot of your suggestions to heart and I thank you for all of the advice. It was good to see the different sides of the argument.

For those of you who are like me and choose not to allow plastic toys into your home, but are unable to convince your family and friends why you do so and you find that (like me) words fail you when asked about it, you are welcome to copy/paste any or all of this letter that you agree with. I don't require any citation or reference to me as the author.

Thank you everyone who helped me fix it so that I sound a lot less like an obsessed weirdo. I'd been writing it for about three hours and after you guys noticed it sounded, well, a little crazy, I took a shower, chilled for a couple of hours, and came back to it and wow. It was totally psycho. I think I just needed to take a break from it. Thanks for helping me get the point across to family members. I think this is going to be the final version:

Here's a link to the letter or the linkophobes can read it in the cut below.

Why I Don’t Allow Plastic Toys Into Our Home

It’s Christmas time again and with it, questions on what kinds of toys my daughter can have, why she can’t have them and comments about how I’m depriving her or about how it’s easier and cheaper to buy plastic toys, so I should just get over it and let her have the stuff all the other kids get.

So I thought I would explain exactly why I take such a strong stance against these toys. I make the weird decisions that I do because I want to live as consciously as possible and I want to instill that value in my children as well.

I don’t want to try to make anyone feel guilty. I don’t want anyone to think that I believe I am better than they are. I don’t want anyone to feel bad about their lifestyle. I just want everyone to understand why I feel so strongly about it.

There are many reasons why I hate plastic toys. To begin, I am concerned about the toxicity of plastic toys. Many plastic toys contain hazardous materials such as lead, PBDEs (added to plastics as flame retardants), mercury, antimony, cadmium, arsenic, polyvinyl chloride, and especially phthalates which are added to vinyl toys to make them soft. Children who put toys into their mouths are at the greatest risk, but these chemicals are also absorbed through the skin as a child plays and even when they are not touching the toys, the plastic offgasses these chemicals into the air and shds them as dust which is then inhaled.

Wanting to protect my daughter alone is enough to make me want to swear off plastic toys, but there is more to it than safety alone. I also think about how these things affect the environment. Plastic is a petroleum product. The plastic industry is a HUGE contributor to poverty, pollution and global climate change. Is a bunch of cheap junk really worth all that? Is this lifestyle sustainable?

We live in a culture where we learn from our earliest days that success means owning as much “stuff” as possible. The problem with this is that “stuff” costs money. To combat this, we need cheap plastic stuff; the cheaper, the better. With cheap stuff, we can afford to buy more and who doesn’t want more?

But everything has a price. I may not have to pay the price for cheap stuff, but someone else does. Someone in China does. Or India. Or anywhere else where slavery is not only legal, but the norm. It’s easy for me to own these things because I live in the wealthiest country in the world.

But the wealth of this country does not come from the workers in this country. It comes from the slave labor in other countries. We don’t see where our stuff comes from. We go to the store and see it in a pretty shiny box. It didn’t seem to come from anywhere. It just appeared there on the shelf for us like magic. We do not see the sweatshops filled with children who earn less than one cent an hour making toys so that we here in the wealthy countries can have them for next to nothing. It is easy for me to buy these things because I don’t have to see how it’s made. I can close my eyes. I don’t have to look at where it comes from. I don’t have to work 100 hours a week in dangerous conditions, never having a day off in my life and getting paid less than three dollars a week for my work.

I don’t have to watch my family starve because we can’t afford food, because I earn less than a dollar a day on a toy assembly line.
I don’t have to work all day making cheap plastic toys that I will never be able to afford, only to send them to a country that will never allow me to live there, where some privileged child will drag it around by the hair and draw with markers on its face until it eventually ends up in the trash and then shipped back to my own country so that I can wade through it while scrounging through the garbage.
I don’t have cancer from chemicals my employer at the plastics plant chose not to protect me from because it wasn’t “cost effective.”
I don’t have a baby born with birth defects because we live next to a plastics plant.

And all this for a piece of junk that I have to pay a hundred times more for than it cost to make because the toy companies have to pay for advertising to make me buy something that I wouldn’t have even wanted in the first place if they hadn’t spent all that money on the advertising to MAKE me want it.

I live in a world where no matter how poor I am, as long as I live here, I will know nothing but convenience and ease and good health and thank goodness for that. I am thankful that I have so much and I choose to be conscious of where these things come from.

Every religion teaches us to love our fellow man, no matter who he is; not to have loyalties just to our own country or our own economy, but to all humans everywhere because we are all the same, no matter where we live. I am responsible not just for my own child, but for the children and families who make the things that we buy for our home, because in a way, they are our family too.

I choose to say no to plastic toys because I want to teach my little girl these values. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that it’s okay to sell your morals for material goods. I don’t believe in slave labor, even if it is the only way we can afford to have all of this stuff. I want to teach her that it’s not quantity that matters, but quality. I want to teach her the value of human life. Plastic goods are not worth the price. I would rather pay for the “expensive” natural, handmade, fair-trade toys.

I don’t say all of this to be preachy, though I guess it’s difficult not to sound that way. I’m not better than someone who chooses to buy what they want. I can’t convince the world. I just don’t want people making rude comments anymore about how we live, or saying that I’m depriving my daughter of her childhood because she can’t have a Barbie. I just want people to understand that I just want to be a good mom. I do not want these toys to be part of our family values.

Sure, there is the possibility she might grow up resenting me for not giving her all these plastic toys. I can only do my best to help her understand why we live the way that we do and then hope that she chooses to make good decisions for herself in the future. I want to help raise a generation that isn’t selfish, that is conscious of the world and how it works – a generation that knows what is going on around them so that they can change it for the better.

Then, at least, I will have done my job as a parent. I want to set a good example. I want her to see that her mom does what she does because she won’t sell out her morals or her soul or the life of a total stranger for a piece of cheap plastic junk.
So thanks for reading this weird lady’s rant :) I guess we all have our weird thing that we believe strongly and passionately in.


It is very difficult to live entirely without cheap foreign-made stuff, and sometimes you really don’t have a choice, but there is a LOT that you can do if you are interested in changing your lifestyle. In general, here are some tips:

-Take hand-me-downs from family and friends.
-Shop garage sales and thrift stores for used items.
-Buy European-made toys. Thave strict standards on hazardous materials in toys.
-Make cookies or other homemade food to give as gifts which can be enjoyed by consuming them, leaving nothing that has to go into a landfill.
-Avoid “Made in USA” labels. Having worked in retail, I have learned that this does not at all mean that the item was made in the USA. It only means that it was finished here. Maybe the decals were stuck on here or maybe the tags were sewn into the clothing here or maybe it was just packaged here. Some “made in USA” items really are entirely made here, but there is almost no way to know, so don’t buy based only on that.
-Join Freecycle. You can give away used items that you no longer need and you can pick up or request items that you do need and often someone will have one they are willing to give to you for nothing.
-Learn how to make things by hand. Not only does it save money, it is a lot of fun and very rewarding to make your own things. I make clothing, quilts, books, and toys for my daughter.
-If you simply cannot get by without buying something, buy organic, fair trade, or handmade by a craftsperson living where you live. Take care of it. Treasure it. If it is made well and lasts, you can hand it down and it need never go into a landfill.
-Buy natural items. They can be destroyed or will biodegrade when they are no longer useful. They won’t sit in a landfill for thousands of years.
-Reuse. I make things from old clothing. I save buttons and string and ribbon and scraps. I make things from what I already have.
-Get rid of your TV. The sole purpose of television is to sell you products. If you don’t watch it, then you won’t want anything because there won’t be anything there to make you want it. There’s not usually anything on TV worth watching, anyway. If you have a favorite television show you just can’t live without, buy or rent the series on DVD or watch it commercial-free online.
-Opt for real items in your home. For example, instead of buying the fake silk plants, plant a real plant in a flower pot.

For children, encourage gifts that are meaningful:

-Give the gift of your time and attention.
-Give the gift of knowledge or imagination through books or quality videos or even music. Most books, DVDs, and music are made in countries where workers are paid fair wages.
-Buy natural, durable toys that will last through many generations and become treasured heirlooms. These toys will retain their durability and their value for generations to come.
-Melissa & Doug is a line of toys which are mostly wood. They are affordable and fairly durable.
-Make toys by hand. It’s not difficult. Even a child can recognize that a handmade toy is made with love and passion for doing what you love. It holds a beauty that inspires reverence.
-Give the gift that keeps on giving. Give the gift of a museum or zoo membership, or movie passes.
-As a family, choose an organization to donate to. Many non-profits such as Heifer International and Oxfam allow you to purchase livestock, seeds, or school books which are then given to children and families in third world countries to help them better provide for their families.

And if you can’t afford it, then take a moment to consider the possibility that maybe you don’t really even need it in the first place.



Oh! Which parts? I still have time to edit it for family. I'd thought it was all on-topic about why I don't allow plastic toys. I really wanted it to hit home for them about why I don't allow it. Some of them keep buying the toys and make rude comments to me that I'm just being weird or that I'm just being mean to my daughter. I'm trying to word it so that they understand that it's a very serious topic for me.
Thank You. I am not a parent yet (hopefully in the next few years) but i feel exactly the same way. I am working on my in-laws now but they do not understand it in anyway that i have explained it. I am going to save this letter and show it to them next time they bite my head off for something.
Let me first say, I really agree with you, and think most of what you said is completely true and thus automatically valid.

HOWEVER, most people in this country can't hear the kinds of examples of situations you're lucky not to be in, without starting to skim or just closing the letter. Perhaps because they don't believe it's really that bad; it's easier to assume you're being melodramatic; or, like me, they know it's true but feel helpless to change their ways completely and so they just can't bear to hear it. You can only get so radically beyond most peoples' comfort zones before they stop processing.

I'm not saying this is a good thing or that you should sugarcoat for upper class sensibilities. But, I do think your letter would be more likely to be read in it's entirety and considered at face value if you took out things that will SEEM intentionally sensationalist or outrageous (i.e., the used condom part and the coughing up blood bit).

I do believe it is worth it to be diplomatic and even possibly manipulative, so long as you are still being honest, if it DOES cause change and education rather than just mixed reactions - laughter, or anger, or disbelief, which are all the sort of defensive coping mechanisms that get employed when people are confronted with seriously gruesome stuff.
No, you are right and yes, you CAN say I'm a psycho if you want :)

Okay, I cut out a lot of the wordiness, still working on it.

You are right. I do need to sugar coat it, for lack of a better term. Let me make it a little less realistic. When writing about it, I just get so....AARRRGHHHH!

Well, you know the feeling.
As a mom who makes toys for her DD and is natural minded, but it also not against the occasional plastic toy, I found this a bit too rambly to follow. I understand the point you are trying to make (no plastic toys!) but it needs to be simple and concise. TBH, my eyes were starting to glaze over. I know there is a terrible plight for third world workers, but making dramatic examples with nothing concrete to back them up doesn't help your cause.

Example: "scrounging through the garbage looking for a used condom so I don’t get my wife pregnant again because we can’t afford another mouth to feed." This is not a fact. It is dramatic yes, but part of a story. If I were you, I'd just edit down to a short list of bullet points like "Plastic toys made overseas often contain harmful chemicals" and "Overseas workers often do not make a liveable wage while working in poor conditions." I really think for most people the less said, the better. Otherwise there's a good chance they'll stop reading and be put off by the preachyness and dramatics, not to mention the length.

Also, I'd like to point out that Melissa and Doug may have neat wooden toys, but they are still made in China, and that is off putting to many people.
I think there was a recent recall of Melissa and Doug too. Sheesh.
Thank you for the help! Yes, still editing it. It's hard when you're passionate about it. You just start to ramble and ramble and then you just look like a psycho.

Mehehe. Maybe now my grandmother will see how she looks to me every time she tries to convert me to her religion :)

But you're right. It's too much, too long, too wordy, too...much.

You rock! Thanks so much!


I didn't make it to the end. I see you are working on it tho :)
Id bullet point it with three main reasons.


1. Many toys made in China, contain dangerous amounts of lead.
2. Plastic toys often also contain poisonous flame retardants, mercury, arsenic and especially phthalates which are added to vinyl toys to make them soft.
3. Children who put toys into their mouths are at the greatest risk, but these chemicals are also absorbed through the skin as well as plastic offgassing, sheding them as dust which is then inhaled.

Global Problems

1. Labors who produces them are not paid a living wage.
2. Labors who produce them are not doing so under safe conditions.
3. Labors are producing quantity and not quality.

Moral Problems

1. Petroleum is a global pollutant.
2. Stuff does dont make you happy. Experiences make you happy.
3. Gigantic manufacturers are destroying small business.
Thank you! That is a very concise way of putting it :)
I don't know at what point in your editing process I read this, but seriously -- it is not too long and I think it's great. I don't get when people say TLDR; -- do people not read books anymore? Maybe that is it, I read a couple novels a week (lots of time spent nursing) and I had no problem reading your article in a few mins flat. I thought it was well worded and quite compelling. Almost all of my daughter's toys are from ethical companies/made of wood or other natural materials but there are a few made from plastic and you better bet I want to make sure she doesn't get anymore plastic!! lol. So your article was effective for me.

My only concern is that perhaps people who don't care will continue to not care. I've tried to explain some of what you've written to my mother, who is an avid Walmart shopper and whose husband just lost his job due to his manufacturing job made obsolete and she just didn't care. Continued to laugh at me for spending more while she gets things for so "cheap". Hmph. I may be cynical but I think a lot of people just don't care to get it.
I completely agree with you on that last bit. As someone who isn't easy to persuade into some things, I understand that I'm not going to be able to persuade most people, especially people in my family because they are EXTREMELY consumer-minded. I can commiserate. I am constantly reading vegan propaganda because I do feel that there's a lot there that is worth practicing and I have often tried going vegan only to end up seeing a hamburger and totally giving in. So yeah, I can see how I'm just not going to convince some people no matter how convincing I try to be, because it's just not going to be in their nature to agree with it.

But I'm hoping at least I get my point across to my family. I'm not so much trying to get them to agree with me so much as try to get them to understand WHY I believe what I do and HOW MUCH I believe what I do. I want to convince them of my conviction because some of them continue to send my daughter plastic toys even though I specifically tell them not to and I think they think I do it just to be on the hippie bandwagon and that I'll give in eventually, not that I do it because I have a reason for believing in it.

And there I go getting all rambly again :)
This isn't a mod warning officially but I do want to say that this is really bordering on not appropriate for the community... I'm really waffling on whether or not to keep it up.
This seems like a bit of an abuse of the community, honestly - and something that's more aimed for your personal journal instead.
I understand and I'd be happy keeping it just in my personal journal. I only thought it was relevant here because of the natural living nature - plastic toys of course not being natural. A lot of natural-minded families are against plastic for that very reason. Plus, there's been a lot of talk about plastic toys lately and specific dolls.

I think you should scrap the letter

Not because I disagree, but because I would be insulted if a family member gave this to me. I always think a face-to-face discussion is better. Relationship before principles, if you want the principles to stick, is my philosophy.

I have a lot of respect for how hard core you are about your values and lifestyle. You walks your talk (as far as I can tell). But I also think that you're taking things too far. That letter is not going to get read by your family- it's really long and it does sound preachy. I feel similarly about plastic toys, actually. My FIL knows that I'm not a fan and buys them anyway - from thrift stores, because he knows after a few days I give them away. I also feel strongly about food and food politics, but when I visit my inlaws I bend for their house and in return they try to honor me as much as possible. I see this as win-win, rather than caving, you know? And actually, they've made, what I see are improvements. They eat quinoa now! Without me around!

As for your daughter, she's learning that world is a scary bad place full of horrible chemicals (and it is, to some extent). But instead of a 'not in our house' (which makes perfect sense to me) it's a 'no where, no time' rule which is going to alienate your daughter. If your daughter is plastic free and healthy food full 95% of the time, 5% of sugar and shit is not going to give her cancer. And she'll be able to relate with other kids.

Re: I think you should scrap the letter

I agree both with the original poster as well as with the last bit you put down there. 100% perfection is not required to have our kids be far healthier than the ones who suck down plastic toys and television all day, every day, and being able to relate to one's peers or just everyday folks is really important: I speak from long and hard personal experience.

I've been through these issues with my own family. I have far more influence over my daughter than anyone else she ever sees, and after relaxing my rules I noticed that she doesn't play with the things I like the least anyway. Not because I dog on them, because she's not interested. So we take the gifts, the family is happy, and after a month of it sitting around unused, we take it to Goodwill. Everyone's happy. It doesn't address the overall issue of buying things we don't need, but I've observed that the family is a poor battleground for fighting out global issues. Older people just don't get it and only feel like they're being criticized and ignored. No one likes that.

Good luck with everything, OP! I hear and understand your desire for complete and open honesty on these issues, but for the sake of peace you may have to deal with getting things you don't approve of and just keeping it to yourself until such time as you can remedy things yourself. Remember: your influence is much more important than anyone else. What you believe will stick, regardless of what she gets for the holidays.
I would rewrite it as follows:

"We are really overrun with more toys than we know what to do with. The kids would really like books or new clothes this year."


ETA: To clarify a bit...

I get that you want to educate people, but I would consider this a poor choice in terms of time of year and venue to do so. The holidays are a very stressful time for people who don't have a lot of money but want to get presents for all the kids in their family so that they can enjoy Christmas, wake up to a bunch of presents under the tree and have fun unwrapping them and stuff. If I was just trying to scrape together money for a gift for a niece or nephew because I thought that it would make Christmas nicer for them, and their mom shot back with a lecture on materialism and slave labor, I'd be absolutely galled. It's really not the time and place.

Edited at 2009-12-07 02:01 pm (UTC)
If I was just trying to scrape together money for a gift for a niece or nephew because I thought that it would make Christmas nicer for them, and their mom shot back with a lecture on materialism and slave labor, I'd be absolutely galled.

I used to feel that way about xmas giving, but after nine years of receiving absolutely inappropriate gifts from my MIL (for me, not a child), I realized that gifts can be burdens too. It's a tricky thing. Yes, someone is giving something, but it's also something that will be living in someone else's life. I think that the important part of gift giving is thinking about who that person is, their values, and what they need/want. If that thoughtful part is left out, then the most important thing is missing: the sentiment. Now that I'm imminently expecting the birth of our first child, I'm being much more vocal with our families about our lifestyle and what is appropriate for us and for our child. To me, it's akin to being vegetarian (which we're not) and being served only meat at every family meal -- our decisions about the 'stuff' we want in our simple life are incredibly intentional and incredibly important to us. I have literally felt ill at prior holidays about the piles of crap given to us ... every now and then there's something awesome (usually when we've been vocal about what we need -- which is why I'm being more vocal now), but most of it has been useless. I know that sounds harsh, but we live in a 500 sq ft house, and I could fill a room with the stuff I've given away during the nine years I've been married to my husband.

So, I'm not really trying to disagree with you. I think your suggestion is a much more positive way to frame the same discussion (and is much more akin to how I'm communicating with our families). But I also think that the holidays are an important time to talk about hard stuff. With most of American retail shopping of the year happening during the last month, it seems like a highly appropriate time to talk about materialism and slave labor.
I think it's a lovely letter; thank you for posting it.

I would love to see better working conditions for people in China and other third world countries, but I don't see how denying them business will do this. In the 50s and 60s, millions of Chinese people starved to death because of their gov't's communist practices and the lack of jobs. When the sweatshops arrived, it's not that anyone liked working in sweatshops, but it was a lot better than starving. Denying a job to a child laborer or a sweatshop worker doesn't mean that the economic horrors which drove them to those jobs in the first place are about to go away; it just means that they have less money than before. When a company agrees to stop using child labor, that doesn't mean it's going to start paying those children's parents any more. I have met people whose parents worked in sweatshops; they didn't like the sweatshops and certainly didn't want to work their or for their parents to work there, but they credited the sweatshops with saving them from starvation.

I'm not saying we should all run out and buy sweatshop goods for the sake of humanity. I'm just saying that the issues are complex. I would prefer to buy products from companies which pay their workers decent wages and provide safe working conditions. I can buy free range pasture fed eggs at the grocery store, but where are the free-range toys? It's definitely a problem.
I agree with you, but I look at it a different way. I don't see the biggest problem being with the sweatshops. I see the biggest problem being with the American companies that choose to pay these workers this amount of money. We can demand better of our country by insisting that the workers who make the toys for us be paid fair wages.

Also, I know that things will never change. Very few people care. Money talks. I'm never going to be able to convince an entire country or even a sizeable amount of its people that we should stop this. The only thing that I can do is not partake. I can only stick to my own morals and not let it in my home. Same with diamonds which I am against. I can't convince anybody I know not to wear diamonds, but that doesn't mean that I should just give up and go ahead and let my husband buy me a diamond ring because everybody else does it, right? That's just where I have to stand, I guess.

You are right, it's sad that it has to be this way :(
For the record, a lot of 'made in USA' stuff is made in places we technically own like Guam but where minimum wage laws don't apply and folks can be treated just as badly as folks in third world countries.
We had a no plastic toys rule until last year, when my oldest turned 6. At that point we decided to allow Legos, Schleich animals, and video games (a Wii). I feel that my children are happier with this approach, I believe Lego and Schleich to be safe, and fairly ethical companies. It was not the slippery slope I imagined it to be-- in fact, it has cut down on inappropriate gifts because the grandparents are "allowed" to buy them Legos and Schleichs (my mom will buy them each a Schleich every time we see her). My kids play Wii together for 30-45 minutes a day which is the amount of screen time they're allowed. The Schleichs and Legos will be passed down and are very durable-- moreso than many of our wooden toys. My 1st grader bonds with his peers over Legos and Wii. I feel that in this, moderation is a good thing. With babies and toddlers, there is absolutely no reason to have plastic toys, but kids grow up.

Also, we found Melissa and Doug toys to be complete crap. They come apart, and the paint starts to chip almost immediately.
Not to bust on Legos, because we love them, but they moved a bunch of their manufacturing from Germany to Mexico two years ago. Big, fat bummer. Still, EU countries, even those who outsource manufacturing, have higher safety standards for toys. There's been talk of an international living wage, but I'm not really holding my breath..

And I agree about Melissa and Doug. Just because something's made of wood doesn't mean it's awesome.
well i just think this is great.
for the longest time i never bought anything made in china, but fell away from it. I always tell myself I'm going to get back to it but seem to forget every time I walk into the store :( I need some practical way to remember when I shop... I can't think of anything short of getting a tattoo. :P
I'm with you there :( Sometimes I forget.

And what's even worse is sometimes I remember, but there's nothing I can do. Like when I'm buying a toothbrush. They are ALL made in China. What am I gonna do, drive all the way across town to the natural food store to buy the ten dollar recycled toothbrush when all I have is a five dollar bill?

It sucks. It makes me angry that these companies seem to not really give you a choice sometimes.
I read your article Why I Don't Allow Plastic Toys into Our Home and it really inspired me to check where the things I buy come from. Would you buy things from China as long as you knew the companies used factories with good working conditions? For example Brio is made in China but has ICTI certification which ensures good working conditions. Would you buy plastic things that were made in Western countries that have good working conditions? For example Playmobil is made in Germany, Geomad is made in Switzerland, Big waterplay sets are made in Germany but all are plastic. Thankyou for taking the time to read this and I look forward to hearing from you. If there is a better way of contacting you, let me know.

Holly X
I do make rare exceptions on plastic and made-in-China, mostly for older children but it depends.

Some plastic toys I find to be so valuable that even if they are made in China, I will make an exception if someone buys them for my kids. Legos is one of these. Legos are made all over the world and some of them are made in China. You don't know where they come from because the packaging might say they are made in several places.

Brio is an excellent example. If they can prove that their workers work in good conditions and that their toys are toxin-free, then it's definitely worth it to look into them.

European made toys are wonderful. They have more stringent regulations about the toxicity of toys, so they tend to be a lot safer than toys made anywhere else. They are not allowed to contain BPA or phthalates or other toxins. The only downside is they can be too expensive for lower income families, but sometimes you can find them used as well.

And sometimes some parents have a problem with purchasing plastic because it is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.

I also recently learned that "made in the USA" things are often made in the USA in factories which are run by slave workers who are unable to leave because they are illegal aliens. I find it horrifying that you can think that you are doing something good by buying more locally only to find you are funding slave practices.

Because it is getting harder and harder to determine whether or not the things I am buying really are produced compassionately, I am looking for organizations which are working towards ending slavery practices across the globe. I feel that funding groups like these will have much more of an effect than just voting with my dollar which really does nothing because there are hardly any who do it.

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