By Ryan Elizabeth Cope –

When you begin to declutter and move towards a waste-free lifestyle, you automatically begin walking a different path, and it is life-altering. It is in the choices you make every day. It’s something we can all be involved in, especially with Earth Day just around the bend on April 22 (if you’re reading this, though, you’re likely living with awareness of your impact every day). Just as graphic designers are cursed with knowing and then seeing bad fonts and kerning everywhere, so too are eco-warriors cursed (or perhaps blessed?) with becoming aware of how much plastic is really out there, how over-consumptive our societies are, and how badly we are trashing this big, beautiful blue planet. The question often asked is this: how have we strayed so far from our 3Rs? Why are we still having the same conversation, again and again, as if it were somehow novel and why have we not devolved back to a way of being our ancestors considered normal?

The Goon Squad is here to help you meet your sustainability goals. Photo: Ryan Elizabeth Cope

The concepts of reducing and reusing have been around since the dawn of time, of course, but only in the relatively recent past have they been given distinction in our waste management systems. Back in the day, eons ago it seems, nobody had a word for reducing and reusing because that was just the way of life: something was used and repurposed, again and again, and then it was reused for something else, again and again. Humans reduced their consumption out of necessity: resources were either scarce, or they were being saved for the future. Once global markets began to take over and World Wars were becoming a distant memory, societies relaxed, we got carried away, and we welcomed the 3Rs to combat the whole mess.

Looking at the state of our world today, however, it seems we’ve gotten a bit lax on our relationship with those Rs. Although there are, in fact, three full concepts within that system, we only really talk about one: recycling. Taken singularly, this concept fits into our over-packaged, debt-filled culture. It is the solution to our need for stuff. Reducing and reusing are seemingly the antithesis of the consumer culture: they tell us to slow down, appreciate what we have, and make as good a use of something as we possibly can. How do we come to terms with this disparity?

My advice? Get a chicken. Chickens help us slow down, and they walk with us along our path towards waste-conscious living. Being in the presence of animals is not only soothing to our nerves and brain, but it also allows us to step outside of ourselves for a moment. When we bring animals under our own care, we have a reason besides ourselves to keep this place standing. Readers of this paper who are parents know exactly what this feels like and it remains one of the ultimate ways to move humanity towards more conscious living. Not only that, but our problems become a bit trivial when we hang out with a flock of happy hens on a sunny afternoon. If ever you are losing your cool at your boss, a romantic partner, or your finances, all it takes is some time sitting with chickens to gain a perspective shift and realize that maybe those mountains really are just mole hills, easily overcome after a breath of fresh air.

A word to the wise: what you feed your chickens comes back to you in their eggs, so feed them things you would also eat. Photo: Ryan Elizabeth Cope

But besides the mental benefits, chickens are also the ultimate accomplices to the zero-waste lifestyle: they are inherently a full-circle kind of organism. Think about it: chickens will eat just about anything, including most (but not all!) fruit and vegetable scraps. If harvesting abundance from your backyard garden, you can rest easy knowing both you and your flock will be eating well that night. Not only will chickens happily eat up seeds, peels, and slightly wilted greens, but they turn all those bits into black gold. Their manure, once mixed with other organic waste, results in rich, nutrient-filled compost, perfect for keeping that backyard garden abundant and thriving. The bonus is that those same chickens will also lay delicious, nutrient-filled eggs for your enjoyment.

Looking to reduce your grocery bill? Again, get some chickens. They will help you eat your groceries, meaning your food waste should be minimal to zero. Plus, when laying regularly, they will virtually eliminate your need to buy eggs from the store. Most egg companies now package their eggs in paper containers, but if you are still buying eggs in Styrofoam, the time is now to get some chickens. To be fair, you will have to buy or make chicken feed, and this does cost some money but at $18 for a 25lb bag of feed, plus all the savings you’ll earn from your chickens composting leftovers, this ends up working out in your favour. Truly, what is better than walking into your backyard to pluck a freshly-laid egg out of a nest-box? Not much, and it is infinitely more satisfying than buying eggs from who-knows-where (that are who-knows-how-old). Of course, if you have already found a source for happy-hen eggs, then you are already winning at this reducing/reusing game.

As we begin to fully bring the 3Rs back into existence, we become more in touch with our food, our environment, and ourselves. Chickens help in all those areas. They put us in closer proximity to our food source, whether it be for eggs or meat. They make us more mindful creatures. They also bring us closer to nature in a very tangible way. We sometimes think of concepts such as plastic pollution happening far away, to larger-than-life seabirds (such as albatross) not realizing that any animal can be affected by errant plastic garbage. The reality is, plastic pollution must begin somewhere, and most of the time it starts in the places where chickens like to hang out: inland. So, this year, to celebrate Earth Day, consider what chickens can do for the planet, and our collective sanity. Might it be worth keeping a feathered flock around to help in our reducing and reusing goals?

Ryan Elizabeth Cope is a Kelowna, BC-based advocate for plastic-less, healthful living. She has lived and worked in several places on the coasts of both the Atlantic and the Pacific, from Hawaii to Maine. She blogs at Seven in the Ocean ( where she marries her love of food with her disdain for plastic-wrapped garbage. When not ranting ad nauseum about plastic, she can be found playing with her chickens or concocting fresh juices in her kitchen.


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