- Republic Services and the Alabama Coastal Foundation (ACF) have partnered for an oyster shell collection program across 28 restaurants, with more expected to start participating this year. The pilot is funded by a two-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation with the goal of creating sustainable oyster habitats and educating the public about shell recycling.
- The shells are collected three times per week and then taken to a large site for six months of outdoor storage. Once ready, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources distributes them along the coastline by barge.
- Republic has collected more than 2 million oyster shells since the program started in October 2016, which is the equivalent of 31 collection trucks or 5.5 acres in the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to make this program self-sustaining by the the time grant funding ends next year.
According to the Oyster Recovery Partnership, discarded oyster shells have been used as pavement, housing construction material or simply thrown in the landfill. Yet the shells have great potential outside of these disposal options and can help environmental agencies or organizations achieve a number of priorities. In addition to providing habitats for a range of sea life, and helping limit erosion, oysters also play a key role in maintaining clean water. According to ACF, an adult oyster can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day.
Growing interest in coastal restoration, and restoring previously decimated oyster populations in some areas such as New York, has led to shell recycling projects in 20 states. Examples include drop-off programs in Maryland and collection programs in Louisiana and Massachusetts. Due to the weight and bulk of these shells, local environmental groups have partnered with multiple companies and government agencies from the waste sector to help transport them.
This partnership for oyster shell collection across restaurants is the first step toward a wider program that could eventually include household oyster cooking as well. The continued success of programs like this that bring together private industry, environmental groups and state government could serve as a model for other coastal states to reduce their oyster shell waste in the future.