Oyster Shell Recycling
The Massachusetts Oyster Project runs an oyster shell recycling program with restaurants and stores all across Massachusetts. We first started the program in 2010 and chefs, customers, farmers, and environmental enthusiasts across the state are joining every day. In short, restaurants sign up to collect and store leftover oyster shells. We pick them up, clean and process them, and use them to seed new oyster beds.
Why recycle oyster shells?
Young oysters can only grow on existing oyster shells. Because almost no natural oyster beds exist, we use recycled shells to seed new beds.
We take the shell from the restaurants, dry it, and age it for at least a year to kill any harmful bacteria. We then allocate it to program locations around the state.
We place processed shells on the sea bottom in areas with existing oysters colonies to help them grow faster. I some cases, we create our own seeded colonies in tanks using the recycled shells. We then transfer those colonies to estuaries and restoration sites.
As oyster shell accumulates and builds up into hard sponge-like reefs, they provide habitat for other marine animals including fish, shrimp, crab, eels, starfish, mussels, and many other marine species. The reefs also protect against erosion and protect shorelines. The reefs also serve as a natural barrier against storm surge, mitigating the effects of climate change.
Oyster shell is also a natural buffer of ocean acidity. One of its main components is calcium carbonate, the same stuff in consumer acid neutralizers Tums and Rolaids. Ocean acidification is a growing problem affecting shellfish growth. Recent studies indicate that the presence of shell may improve the growth of steamer clams.