Massachusetts nonprofit recycles oyster shells to help the environment, restaurants

Oysters are considered one of life’s delicacies and some of the world’s best are harvested right off the Massachusetts coast.

The Massachusetts Oyster Project is a non-profit group helping the local oyster population grow while cleaning up the environment at the same time.

Standing in front of a huge pile of oyster shells, Erika Smith, the organization’s program manager, said, “We work with a bunch of restaurants and instead of the shell going into the trash and into the landfills, we take it, and we make sure it gets back into the environment where it started.”

The Oyster Project collected 38,000 pounds of shells last year. The year before they picked up 25,000 pounds from local restaurants.

Bio-degradable are filled with shells and placed around Chipman’s Harbor in Wellfleet.

They provide a natural place for oyster larvae to cling to and mature as they grow their own shells.

Having more oysters in the harbor helps keep the water clean. One oyster can filter about 50 gallons a day.

“They basically reduce the amount of nitrogen,” explained Smith.

Launching the oyster project in Wellfleet makes sense.

“Shellfishing is really the lifeblood of our community,” said Nancy Civetta, the town’s shellfish constable. “We believe about 10% of our population makes its living on the water here.”

That is why it’s so important to make sure the oyster population continues to thrive here.

“By keeping up our traditions from the past, then you are in fact, honoring the roots that this town was built on, and this town was built on oysters,” added Civetta.

That sense of history is on display along Main Street where oysters can see on local business signs.

And on the menu at Winslow’s Tavern where oysters get top billing.

Co-owner Tracey Barry Hunt says the recycling program is easy and saves her money.

“It is a total win because part of the issue with oyster shells is they’re heavy and they smell, and they go right in the dumpster. The tipping fees on trash and disposal services are at a premium,” Hunt said.

Recycling the shells is a long arduous process.

After being collected they’re left outside at the town’s transfer station so birds and bugs can naturally clean them. They periodically are raked and moved around to make sure they’re exposed to the sun and air.

It is all worth it to Erika Smith.

“It is a big win. I think the only downside is that there’s still a shell out there that gets thrown into the trash. Our goal is to collect that and make sure it doesn’t go into the landfill,” Smith said.

The recycling program started with just five restaurants in Wellfleet.

Today, they have a couple of dozen participants stretching from Provincetown down to Chatham.

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