Restaurants Are Recycling Oyster Shells To Restore The Coast

Oysters are a shellfish that bring lots of benefits to both humans and the environment. With 85 percent of oyster reefs being eliminated for various reasons, an environmental organization and waste management group team up in Alabama to recycle used oyster shells.


May 24 2019, Updated 2:50 a.m. ET

It might sound unappetizing at first, but oysters are a commonly enjoyed shellfish that’s eaten while they’re alive. It’s a healthy option unless they’re dead, since rapid deterioration creates tons of bacteria. Once these critters are slurped up cooked or raw, they leave a shell that’s trashed and adds to our landfills. A couple of groups in the Southeastern United States have found a way to recycle these oyster shells into something very useful. 

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The Alabama Coastal Foundation and Republic Services started up last October working with a couple seafood restaurants and picked up their shell waste three days a week. The ACF is a non-profit organization that oversees the state's coastal region while the latter is a local waste management company. 

What started as just two establishments turned into 29 restaurants according to the ACF’s website. They’ve opened up collection to all restaurants along the coast back in April. Some famous restaurants in the area include multiple locations of Flora-Bama and Wintzell’s Oyster House.

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This isn’t the first oyster reclamation project in the United States. Other popular campaigns include the Billion Oyster Project in New York that hopes to restore up to 100 acres of oyster reefs by 2035. Another is the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program. Both of these areas have dealt with the massive loss of oyster reefs along their shorelines and have found much success already in promoting the recycling of used shells.

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Why is it important to recycle these oyster shells? Their popularity, along with disease and environmental change, has damaged their habitat and has limited availability of more oysters. Baby oysters must attach themselves onto something concrete in order to grow. According to a FastCompany report, 85 percent of oyster reefs in the world have been eliminated.

We’ll need to distinguish that there should be no worries in eating these shellfish. Around 95 percent of oysters served at restaurants were farmed and not directly coming from oyster reefs. However, these oysters are extremely valuable to the environment as they provide shelter for animals and create a stable coast.

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Some changes will be made to the process as government funds will be exhausted early next year. FastCompany's report also claimed that the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation gave a $243,000 grant to the cause, aiding in 2.8 million oyster shells to be recycled. That’s slightly over 7.2 acres restored. Republic Services will be adding a fee for waste shell pickup in the future. 

Jennifer Eldridge, a representative for the waste management company, believes it won’t be an issue to add on charges. “With so many restaurants buying into the program, they’ll likely be willing to pay for it, like they pay to have their trash or recycling collected.” Restaurants opting in to the program will continue to help the movement of rebuilding these very important oyster reefs along shorelines. 


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