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Reuse, Renew, Recycle…Oyster Shells?

As daylight hours have become shorter in New England, my new indoor, cold weather obsession activity has become researching oyster shell reclamation. Very cool, I know!

Island Creek has been involved with a few oyster shell reclamation projects in the past, with organizations such as the Billion Oyster Project, so this topic is not new to us. However, this recent research has lead me to reflect on my job in restaurant sales. I sell oysters to about 250 restaurants across the country, which is only a fraction of our entire Direct to Chef program. What happens to the thousands of oyster shells that are shucked everyday once their contents are eaten? What kind of impact does this system have in terms of waste production?

Here are just a few benefits of reclaiming spent oyster shells:

-Less waste going into landfills – 7 million TONS of mollusc shells end up in landfills every year.

-Restore oyster reefs – oyster larvae use recycled shells as a place to settle. More oysters means cleaner water + increased biodiversity!

-Coastline protection – think of oyster reefs as natural sandbags or seawalls, protecting our cities from storm surges and floods

-Lowering ocean acidification – oyster shells are made up of calcium carbonate which is a material that can decrease acidity (think -nature’s Tums)

-Cement + water filtration – both of these industries use calcium carbonate as raw materials

-Driveway material – ‘cuz you fancy like that

There should be shell recycling programs in every major city- amiright?! Just like paper and plastic recycling receptacles are becoming more commonplace, restaurants should have access to similar options for food waste. But as it stands today, logistics aren’t easy (ie. where you gonna put that extra shell dumpster?) and short term incentives for restaurants are not yet present in most cities.

How many programs are out there actively working to collect and recycle oyster shells? Is there a role that Island Creek can play in helping to bridge the gap between our network of chefs, and having a positive impact on the environment after our oysters are harvested?

If you know of any shell recycling programs in your home city, let us know!