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10 tons and counting: Recycled shells save reefs—and money

Oyster-shell recycling expands to four Cape Cod towns.

Nothing tastes quite like a Wellfleet oyster, and until last summer, countless shucked shells went from the table to the trash.

They're now headed back to local waters. The Massachusetts Oyster Project last summer collected more than 10 tons of shells from Wellfleet restaurants as part of the group's pilot recycling program.

The effort has since expanded weekly shell pickups beyond Wellfleet to restaurants in Chatham, Eastham and Orleans. Participating restaurants have doubled to 16 since last summer.

The recycled shells will return to the water to help restore reefs and shell beds, and support hundreds of marine species. Restaurants have the added incentive of saving on their waste costs, says Theresa Baybutt, president of the Massachusetts Oyster Project's board of directors.

"There's a lot of shellfish coming out of the water, and unfortunately a lot of that shell was ending up in the trash," she says. "Restaurants may pay by weight to get rid of their waste, and removing that shell from their waste stream can save them money."

Collectors deliver shells by the bucketload from restaurants to the Wellfleet transfer station each week. Shells are stored there and aged one year before they can return to the water, per state regulations.

A grant from the Rhode Island-based 11th Hour Racing is helping fund the project.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.