Recycling

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Ethical Consumerism: Navigating the Minefield

The inspiration for this particular blog post was born out of the research of a planned piece about sustainable pet care. We quickly saw just how often a lot of ethical terminology is used interchangeably, despite the meanings being quite different in practice. As such, we felt that a broader post that takes a look at ethical consumerism might be beneficial. Below, we will try our best to shine some light on the basics, before sharing some of the things we’ve learned so far on our journey through the minefield of becoming [more] ethical consumers.

What does it all mean?

Ethical Consumerism: This phrase might sound like something from an economy textbook, but all it means is choosing to limit the negative social or environmental impacts of your lifestyle by buying certain goods or services, and avoiding others. Choice and limitation are the two key concepts. The consumer world is NOT currently geared towards ethical consumerism, so it is up to us to make those positive choices. Similarly, unless you live off grid and are meticulous about your entire lifestyle, the things you consume will ALWAYS have some element of negative impact. The goal therefore is to reduce this wherever possible, which is perfectly achievable. We feel it is fair then to say that ethical consumerism can be flexible, and allows consumers to choose what level of negative impact they are prepared to accept as a cost of their lifestyle. However, there are also certainties with ethical consumerism.

Ethical consumerism is becoming more important every single day

“Expenditure on ethical goods and services in the UK increased almost threefold in the ten years between 1999 and 2008”

All of the other terms discussed in this post describe elements of ethical consumerism. If you’d like more information on what ethical consumerism means, or why it’s important to you as a consumer or a business, retail education charity IGD have a helpful website.

Vegetarian: A dietary choice (although some illnesses make a vegetarian diet necessary), defined by the Vegetarian Society as

“Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish* or by-products of slaughter.”

VEG_SOC_APPROVEDThere are various subgroups within vegetarianism, but generally speaking only food and drink can be defined as vegetarian. Being vegetarian therefore tends to have less impact on ethical consumerism outside of the food industry.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: A fancy way of labeling ‘traditional’ vegetarianism – eats dairy and eggs but avoids meat.

Lacto-vegetarian: Avoids meat and eggs, but consumes dairy.

Ovo-vegetarian: Avoids meat and dairy, but consumes eggs.

Pescetarian: Often not regarded as vegetarian by other types of vegetarian, pescetarians avoid meat except for fish.

Vegan: A lifestyle choice rather than a purely dietary one, vegans avoid any animal product, including leather and honey. Degrees of veganism vary greatly, as there are many complicated factors that they can consider when buying goods.

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fairtrade-logowfto-logo

Fair-trade: Generally accepted as trade between companies and producers with secured minimum prices that protect the producer. Usually occurs between developing producers and western companies. In practice, there are in fact different regulators and standards of fair trade. Two major factions are the Fairtrade Foundation and the World Fair Trade Organisation.

Sustainable: The basic concept of a sustainable process or product is that it can continue in the future without being changed eg. a sustainable method of farming rice crops will mean that the same rice crops can be farmed in the same way in twenty years time.

Tricks and Trips

Now we’ve had a quick (read: brief, and basic) look at some of the most important terminology for ethical consumers, you might be forgiven for thinking everything else is easy – simply buy the products that advertise these logos, and you’re all set, right? WRONG.

In an ideal world it might be true, but unfortunately these labels are barely the beginning. For the most part, it’s true that relying on these labels WILL improve your ethics as a consumer. However, it’s also true that they are the source of controversy and often don’t represent exactly what you might expect. Let’s take a look at just a few of the issues.

Vegan/Vegetarian: For the purpose of this blog, we are choosing to trust branded products that advertise their product as suitable for vegans/vegetarians. The problem we have, is that not all brands choose to seek accreditation, or advertise their product as vegan/vegetarian, even if it is. To our minds, this indicates a deeper issue that we find more problematic than the simple confusion. Either, brands are scared to advertise as vegan or vegetarian friendly, for fear of losing ‘regular’ (read: omnivorous) customers as a result of the negative opinions much of the general market hold about meat free consumers, or else the brand has no commitment to meat-free produce that extends beyond their desire to create a ‘better’/’cheaper’ product. It’s a sad situation we think needs more attention, but in the meantime, we recommend checking manufacturer websites, or sites like Vegan Wiki.

A similar problem crops up from brands desire to cash in on a label with positive perceptions: all natural colours and flavourings. Carmine, or E120 in Europe is sometimes used as red dye. And it’s made from bugs. Squished, crushed bugs, farmed in their millions. But it doesn’t say that anywhere on any labels, so if you wish to avoid eating animal products, it’s down to the consumer to check for the dye. This livescience article has some more detail.

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Cochineal beetles

Fair-trade: That’s right, sadly a fair-trade badge isn’t a safe bet, either. Frankly, we were shocked at the amount of criticism and question marks our research actually revealed. There’s certainly enough for a whole individual blog post, so if people show an interest we might make that happen. For now, we hope a bullet list will help.

  • Fair-trade protects producers of the raw materials only, such as farmers and miners. Other workers in the chain aren’t eligible to register.
  • Workers or groups of workers have to pay for a license that allows them to take part. The companies that sell the finished goods then pay a license fee to be allowed to use the fair-trade name and logo.
  • Critics of Fair-trade are quick to point out that most of Fair-trade’s positive media presence is only anecdotal .
  • Fair-trade don’t monitor the retail price of the end products, and there is much debate about how much of the increase in price actually makes it to the producers fair trade is supposed to protect.
  • Fair-trade foundation certification only requires a percentage of one ingredient to come from fair-trade sources. The rest can come from potentially anywhere.
  • Finally, and potentially critically, the fair-trade foundation award their certification based on mass balance. Cadbury were recently called out for this on UK television. There’s a great explanation here on chocablog, but basically manufacturers only have to purchase a relevant weight of fair-trade product to qualify and the rest can come from anywhere. Therefore your supposedly ethical bar can contain anywhere from 0-100%fair-trade bean.

At it’s worst therefore, the fair-trade organisation can be seen as nothing more than a profit making middle man, who facilitates increased profits for big corporations at the cost of the very workers the scheme claims to exist to protect. Of course, this isn’t true in every case, but on the facts there is every chance it could be true for some.

Paws for thought

Above are a few big issues we wanted to draw attention to, but that isn’t where the story ends. Depending on how strongly you want to embrace an ethical lifestyle, there can be potentially no end to the factors you need to consider in order to make the best ethical choice to meet your needs.

  • Some countries embrace the eco message more strongly than others, or happen to be where particularly good manufacturers are located. That they exist is fantastic, but sometimes its important to consider the delivery miles that might be associated with your purchase. If the shipping company isn’t green, or your order is being couriered as part of a small load, your choice of an eco-friendly product might actually cost the planet more than a less green, but more produced and more locally sourced alternative.
  • Recycling, recycling, recycling. Again, we’ll do a more detailed post on just this topic sometime soon, (link here), but the basic message is that recycling isn’t black and white. If it’s a cause you are passionate about, make sure you research the ‘recyclable’ materials used in your product, and also how close to you the nearest recycling facilities are for that material. Some recyclables are much cheaper and more efficient than others – glass and aluminium vs plastic for example. Likewise, the services offered in your local area vary massively, so it’s always worth checking.

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  • Use, reuse, repurpose. Innovation is an amazing thing, and we LOVE it. But sometimes it’s worth asking whether buying the latest, most efficient, greenest product right now will actually save you and the planet any stress if you still have a less wonderful, but still perfectly functioning version. Cars are an easy example – sure new models have much better aluminium use and fuel usage, but a brand new car is only made one way, with a huge amount of resources and emissions.

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  • Take everything with a pinch of salt. As we have mentioned, demand for ethical goods is rising. A sad consequence of this is that many brands try to jump into this growing marketplace to cultivate a premium price for their product. Keep an eye out for cost cutting and more dubious materials/ingredients hiding underneath the bits that are being advertised. Things we particularly hate are foods with only one fair-trade ingredient, bottled ‘eco water’, and supposedly green products with far too much packaging, and lots of hard or non-recyclable components.
  • The other potential pitfall that comes from these brands is that you might think you’re making a responsible purchase, but actually you are funding a brand that is >50% unethical. This can be true of everything, from where you bank, the actual shops you purchase from, the food you buy, and the products you fill your house with, right to the services you use in daily life.

Conclusion: Trailblazing

So we’ve had a look at some of the obstacles that we face in our pursuit of becoming more ethical consumers. Here are some tips we hope will help you steer the course.

  • Research everything as far as possible. This is a big one, and it can be time consuming, but hopefully you learn something interesting along the way, and perhaps even strike up some new friendships.
    • Ethical groups and individuals tend to be very passionate and supportive about the products they endorse. Therefore, asking people you know or social media can be a really useful way of finding what you’re looking for.
    • We’ve just launched an ongoing campaign #solevegan to help people with these kinds of lifestyle choices. Join in and get involved.
    • There are lots of smaller alternatives to fair-trade, so it’s worth taking a few moments to research any certificates or accreditation you see on products you like. Company websites usually include a whole page devoted to their awards.
  • Know your label. Becoming familiar with how to read all the information packaging provides can be a big help. You’ll see guides to recycling the packaging, indications of welfare, nutrition, and of course ingredients or materials.
  • Brand can be everything, but not in the way you might think. It’s no secret that CSR (corporate social responsibility) and ethical initiatives are big money now, and set to boom for some time to come. As a result, some companies have risen to the challenge and choose to provide their own certification and schemes, rather than paying ‘middlemen’ to make their product more ethical. This makes the company look good, but also allows them to create something with longevity and development, rather than simply annual licensing fees. Company websites and social media accounts are good sources of this information, and their responses can often be a good indication of how sincere they are about their ethics.
  • Consumption calculations. Websites like the Energy Saving Trust can help you compare the footprints of new and existing products you use around the home.
  • Think outside your home. If you’re tempted by a new product, consider how else you can ensure the resources and materials in your current product can be put to use. Could you sell or donate it locally and save another family from buying a new product? Can you put it to use as something else?
  • Share the knowledge. If you’ve found a wonderful product, but it’s offered overseas, do you know any ethical companies who might be interested in acting as a distributor? What might not be viable for you individually might be much more ethical if it was imported in larger numbers. If not, there’s still the chance that your information will inspire a more local company to make something similar.
  • Stay close to home. For low-tech products and food, choosing local or even homemade is often one of the best ways to maximise transparency. The more you know, and the more you can see about where a product has come from, the more likely you are to be able to assess it’s ethical value.

Of course, these are just some of the things to watch out for and steps to consider. We hope you enjoyed reading, and encourage you to share any of the difficulties you have encountered, or your suggestions for becoming a more ethical consumer, in the comments section below.

Thank you so much for your time!

The Paws

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# Sole Vegan

The move to Veganism is steadily growing in popularity. The Vegan Society is thriving, the volume of vegan produce being sold is rising, and Google Trendsare showing increased interest in vegan products, both seasonal and general. All fantastic news.

However, it’s far from all plain sailing. There are lots of vegans out there who are the only Vegan in their home, in their class, or at their work. And it’s hard. The internet is peppered with guides and tips for coping as the sole Vegan. Many also refer to strategies for defending your vegan beliefs, or even trying to convert the non-Vegans.

As a result of these guides, and a response to the difficulties, we here at Paw the Love of Earth have a proposition to put forward, and a pledge to make.

There are many only Vegans out there, we feel it is vital to show them that they are not ‘only’ Vegans, and that Veganism is a fantastic, healthy, and ethical lifestyle choice.

  • We pledge to support Vegans, and to celebrate the cause, and their achievements. No Vegan is ‘only’ a Vegan.

There are many lone Vegans out there, but we are ultimately united in our beliefs, and our commitment to the planet.

  • We pledge to do our part, to stand together and show all Vegans that though they may feel isolated, they are never alone.

There are many sole Vegans standing their ground with passion and conviction.

  • We pledge to respect their strength, to educate, and to show both Vegans and the wider world that we are champions of the soul, in all its glorious beauty. This means being positive, and respecting the steps that individuals HAVE taken towards embracing a Vegan lifestyle, even though they may be incomplete.

We would dearly love it if any of you, all of you, would honour us by taking the same pledge.
You can do so in private and in public, in your actions and on any social media you have. You can do so by always having time for another Vegan who needs your help and support, or has questions that you can answer.

And once per week (or more often) you can do so by tweeting/speaking/recording/videoing your support, with the #solevegan. We propose that meat-free Mondays represent a perfect opportunity for us to show our support.

We would also love to see Vegans showing their support with #solevegan photos. These can be selfies, pets, creations or anything you are comfortable sharing. Our only request is that somewhere the image contains a ‘V’ shape, to represent our solidarity. Paw the Love of Earth hope to reach a stage where we can choose our favourites each week and reward them in some way.

So please, join our campaign. We urge you to consider taking the Sole Vegan pledge. We ask you to share this page and its message. We encourage you to show the strength of our soul, and encourage all sole Vegans on their difficult journeys.

Sincerely, thank you.

The Paws of PtLoE

Eggscellent Easter Ideas

Easter Weekend is practically upon us. Whether your reasons for celebrating Easter are religious, cultural, spiritual or otherwise, the occasion represents a fantastic opportunity to get together with family and friends. Read on for our best eco-friendly and vegan suggestions to make your weekend an eggscellent success!

Make the most of your preparation

The Paws number one rule for celebrating Easter is to make the preparation part of the festivities. Whatever the scale of your Easter, we thoroughly recommend getting everyone involved and making a spectacle out of the preparation. Our favourite events include:

  • Sharing recipe and cooking suggestions together in the kitchen. These often turn into lessons from one generation to the next.
  • ‘Egg’ prep (more on the inverted commas shortly)

eastermeme

Our ‘egg’ prep is all hands on deck and is never complete without at least two crates full of materials, which we do our best to source from recycling or nature. We have a table covered with unwanted newspapers and only one rule – nobody leaves the table without a grin plastered to their face like a papier mache decoration.

  • Hunt strategy – we split the family into two opposing groups every two years. Each group has one year hunting, and one year hiding. We find simple groups are the most manageable and memorable – kids/adults, male/female etc. The hide group gets to plan the hunt on Saturday and create any rules or tools they choose to give the hunt group on Sunday. The years where we have made maps were especially successful.
  • The walk – not strictly an Easter element, but it’s always been our family tradition to take a lengthy nature walk on the Saturday. Weather permitting, we picnic, but the dogs prefer the rain!

Eggs or ‘eggs’

At Paw the Love of Earth, we choose to celebrate a Vegan Easter for environmental, animal welfare, and economic reasons. Lots of regular commercial chocolate eggs are readily available out there, but we choose to leave commentary on non-vegan eggs to other writers 🙂

The big question for us though, is eggs, or ‘eggs’. We tend to have edible ‘eggs’ in some form as part of our Easter meal (either chocolate, or other vegan food styled into egg shapes, often hollow), which are always different to the ‘eggs’ we hunt.

Eggs

  • Vegan chocolate eggs. We usually keep these for dessert and table decorations, simply because we like the dogs to be part of the Easter Hunt, and chocolate is deadly for dogs! There are lots of fantastic brands out there, but our favourite are from moofree – they taste great and we love their commitment to local, ethical ingredients. For a fantastic list and assessment of ethical chocolate, we can’t recommend http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/food/eastereggs.aspx enough – very thorough and clear!
  • Wooden eggs. You can buy these usually for around the same price as chocolate eggs. They come either solid, or ‘openable’. We prefer ours to be plain, so that we can decorate them ourselves. Our favourite methods are simple paint, or dressing the wood in recycled paper and fabric.
  • Papier Mache eggs. These can be messy and a little bit of a scramble to make, but we love that. In our experience, semi filled water balloons make the best egg forms, while old egg cartons are the perfect workbench. We always recommend recycling junk mail or old magazines, but coloured tissue papers can look fantastic as well. Notmartha have some fantastic instructions for making fillable papier mache eggs. The process is a bit fiddly, but the end result is  really rewarding, particularly for younger family members of households hoping to include a more serious religious message in their celebrations.
  • Eco eggs. We’ve seen and tried these in a few different ways, but we feel the ones that give the best impression are those which showcase nature and the feeling of new Spring beginnings. Good materials are wisps of wool, chick down, thistledown, flowers or foliage.

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‘Eggs’

When we don’t hunt for eggs, we search for other objects instead. We think non-eggs have greater potential for symbolism, which might be particularly useful for religious families.

  • Easter ornaments. We think that select pieces from a study nativity set are a good choice and a great way of making more from what you have.
  • Pine cones. The forests’ eggs, pine cones look beautiful either au natrale or decorated and are clearly representative of poultry eggs, sharing all of the symbolism we expect from Easter.
  • Rocks. Easy to find and essentially indestructible, smooth rocks are easy to decorate and can be put to use around the home afterwards as door stops and paperweights, or even ornaments.

X Marks the Spot

As mentioned above, we love maps! They really help bring an extra element of interactivity and fun to Easter. We have two favourite types of map, which frequently crop up whenever we do scavenger-style hunts.

  1. Reused coffee grinds or teabags. Either used to stain paper, or glued down to create 3D maps, beverage maps look great, are fun to make, and add an extra sense of mystery. For difficult hunts, consider adding riddles or written clues.
  2. Sample relief maps. For a fun twist on regular maps, why not try collecting samples from each area where the Easter loot is hidden – blades of grass, gravel, compost, etc, and use them to mark significant sites in your map. For more challenge, take this idea but combine the material into a symbolic picture or striking image, forcing your hunters to find where the samples are from through exploration alone.

And there we have it, the Paws top Easter tips for a top Easter Weekend. We wish you all a wonderfully happy Easter!

Feature image credit: Photo by hadkhanong. Published on 30 March 2015, from freedigitalphotos.net

Spring is Coming

Welcome to the very first official Paw the Love of Earth blog post! We spent a lot of time deliberating what we should share first. In the end, the coming of the new season seemed too symbolic to pass up on.

As you may know, the first official day of Spring is now just one week away. With the nights becoming lighter and a little warmer, now is the perfect time to finish clearing away the remnants of winter and preparing your garden for the year to come. But please be careful and think reuse before refuse – a lot of what you might be tempted to throw away can give some fantastic benefits to your plot with a little repurposing and elbow grease. Below are some eco-friendly, animal (wild and pet) safe suggestions to help you prepare for your very own blooming good garden!

Clear up on aisle 1, and 2…. and all the rest.

Exactly as simple as it sounds. Start the season as you mean to go on, by having a good spring clean. Sweep any patios, collect any foliage, and clear up any debris or leftover fruit fall. For ultimate satisfaction, save all compostables as well as anything timber, or interesting, for later use. We found the promise of a hot cocoa afterwards to be a great incentive for hard workers, so no reason not to get everyone involved.

[Re]Build the barricades – and borders

2015 was particularly bad for rough winds and unpleasant weather. Welcome Spring to its own sanctuary in your garden by repairing any damage fence panels or posts, making sure any damaged trees and plants are safely and correctly taken care of. Next, it makes sense to follow all good generals and draw up your plan for 2016. Design and mark out any new borders and flowerbeds you wish to develop, making sure to leave space for any sustainable projects (more on these to come). Finally, take the time to reset all of your existing features, but bear in mind that nature’s little critters will be grateful for a few extra weeks of dead growth cover.

We like big butts and we cannot lie

Yup, you heard us. But of course we mean water butts, a wonderfully thoughtful and environmentally friendly solution to your garden’s water needs. These can be readily purchased from gardening centres, or constructed at home from repurposed materials. We recommend plastic bins, as they are more robust, and the plastic is much better repurposed than sent to landfill or a recycling centre. If you don’t have one, lined and sealed wooden units or old barrels can also make great solutions. If plastic is too ugly, or unnatural for the garden look you want, then get creative and consider cladding your plastic bin with some fallen branches. Similarly, if you prefer a modern or unique look, customise your plastic bin with whatever works for you!

We suggest that butts with lids are safest for gardens with pets, children, or regular visitors, and find that taps are a convenience that more than make up for the small hassle of installation. Making your own agree, and also recommend steam cleaning your butt before use, and obviously avoiding any plastics that have had heavy contact with chemicals.

Again, it’s your garden and your rules, so if you prefer to go lidless, or tapless, then get creative, and feel free to share your photos here. Near empty butts can be difficult to use without a tap, but a well-style bucket lift would certainly bring some ingenuity and original character to your build.

Pay your doos

Though we don’t mean this literally, unless you are confident and have thoroughly researched how to do this safely. Much of your natural garden, and vegetable food waste however, can be paid back to the earth, for your garden to reap the benefits throughout the year. Yes, we are talking about the gardeners equivalent of a magic elixir; compost!

Compost bins can be purchased as kits or complete units, but its oftentimes more fun and environmentally pleasing to build your own. This is also a great opportunity to take care of the leftovers from your cleanup. The scale of your leftovers – and your compost project – will of course be determined by the size of your plot, but any materials from large rocks, bricks and sleepers, through to branches and old pallets can all be useful in construction.

As a general rule of thumb, any non-toxic plant life and vegetable waste is suitable for recycling in a compost bin. Equally, without special treatment, most pet waste should be considered NOT suitable for composting. Research is still being conducted on pet waste safety, and in any case, special chemicals and additives are needed to add to the bin to create a usable compost. The biggest exception we are aware of is chicken or other domestic poultry waste. Too toxic and harsh to be applied straight to plant or vegetable beds, poultry litter is actually a wonderful natural activator and works well when added to your other organic composting waste. If ever in doubt, consult a legitimate expert or authority, such as the Royal Horticultural Society, and remember to use compost you are unsure about solely on plant beds rather than your vegetables.

Pest Management

There are all manner of critters and crawlers that can be unwelcome in your plant life. Here at PtLoE we respect your right to a beautiful garden, but we also respect the balance of nature, and all creatures’ right to life. As a result, all of our solutions are non-harmful to your garden or your slugs, snails, and minibeasts. We heartily implore you to at least give them a try before your resort to anything more drastic. Our favourite solutions include:

  • Seaweed – layer this around your precious plants and vegetable beds, as slugs and snails won’t cross such a salty surface. In summer, the seaweed dries out and creates an abrasive obstacle that acts as its own deterrent.
  • Coffee grounds – fairly pH neutral and rich in nitrogen, coffee grounds deter slugs, fertilise the soil, and are a common kitchen waste product that should always be recycled.
  • Good old collection, plain, simple, or complicated – repeatedly moving offenders can protect your plants over time and discourage repeat offenders. This can be done by hand at night when they are most active, or over a period of time using a variety of safe traps and collection tools. Grapefruit halves (food) and cardboard (shelter) are just two effective collection traps that are safe and friendly.
  • Garden management – this can be twofold. The first stage involves keeping them away from your plants, by watering in the day so the soil is less moist after dark, when garden pests are most active. The second and less published option, is to divert unwanted visitors by instead creating a safe space for them, away from plants you want to protect.

Please let us urge you away from salt, beer, and nematodes. Not only are these a lethal solution that are literally overkill to the problem, but these substances are so strong that they present a danger to your plants and can damage the soil.

Not an heir to Gondor? Never fear, Steward over your garden instead

Spring is a great time to start planning and creating houses for desirable critters. We find the best source for helpful tips and support to be the RSPB, who’s ‘make a home for wildlife’ campaign is brilliant and deserves more support. With a little information on what you’d like to build a home for (bugs, bees, birds, insects oh my) the most basic of waste becomes a fantastic asset, limited only by your imagination.

Our particular favourite project is the bee hotel. Poor bees are cute, full of energy with their buzzing, and come equipped with stylish and cuddly little fuzzy jackets. Unfortunately, they are also vital to our ecosystem, overworked and in decline. We recommend leftover wood from delivery pallets, or old birdhouses and drawers, and a mix of bamboo and drilled wood.

 

 

And there it is, our first blog post has come to an end. All comments are deeply appreciated; any photos or stories of your own projects are eagerly anticipated. As always, if you would like to request any further information or get in touch with the paws behind this blog directly, we can be reached via email at pawtheloveofearth@gmail.com.

We hope this article helps you to take a positive step towards a happier planet.

Thank you for your time!