Oyster Shell Recycling

The Massachusetts Oyster Project works with restaurants, farms and environmental groups to organize and run shell recycling programs across the state of Massachusetts. These programs, which can be recurring or for an individual event, entail pickup of the shell by a Mass Oyster team member, cleaning, aging and eventually, seeding of new oyster beds.

Because Mass Oyster is all-volunteer and volume of consumption is highly seasonal, please contact us using the Sign Up to the right to learn more about current programs and if we are currently in your area.

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.


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