Oyster Shells Piling Up in City’s Bay-Friendly Recycling Program

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Oyster Shells

Who says a spent oyster shell is merely trash? For 10 baby oysters, that shell might be a new house. That’s the inspiration behind an ongoing collaboration between the Baltimore City Department of Public Works and the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

Today, DPW announced it had collected 3,500 shells — around 482 pounds’ worth — within roughly six months of running its shell recycling program. It appears Baltimore’s oyster lovers and restaurants have been diligently dropping off their used shells at the city’s recycling center at 2840 Sisson Street.

DPW announced it the program this past May. Here’s how it works: After the shells pile up in the bins there, the Oyster Recovery Partnership rounds them up and ensures they make it out to the University of Maryland Horn Point Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge, Md. There in the Chesapeake Bay, each one can be replanted as a home for 10 “spat” oysters, which then develop into full-grown bivalves.

DPW communications chief Jeffrey Raymond said in an email that his department is “delighted that oyster shell recycling is off to a strong start. This simple act of providing recycling bins is helping to regenerate Maryland’s oyster supply, as well as reinforcing the importance of recycling.”

Those nearly 500 pounds of shells will serve as dwellings for around 35,000 tiny oysters on reefs in the bay. As we noted when the city installed 25 new oyster cages down in Harbor East this September, these organisms aren’t playing around when it comes to cleaning the water. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. For Maryland’s highly polluted Chesapeake Bay, that’s not a bad use of what would otherwise be trash.

The recycling program is free and runs through oyster harvesting season, which just kicked off last month. If you’ve got used-up shells, think twice before tossing them and consider dropping down at the Sisson Street center instead.

Ethan McLeod
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