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This CT nonprofit is recycling oyster shells that are otherwise going to waste

by | Nov 27, 2023 | CST Articles | 0 comments

Oysters are a delicacy that many New Englanders savor, but removing their shells from the ocean floor actually harms the environment.

Now a first-of-its kind program in Connecticut aims to put tens of thousands of shells back into Long Island Sound. It’s run by a new nonprofit that launched this year called Collective Oyster Recycling & Restoration, or CORR.

Fried or on the half shell, a lot of diners go to Max Oyster in West Hartford for one thing.  “Very popular. I mean, it’s our namesake,” Matthew Burrill, Max Oyster executive chef, said.

However, the discarded shells add up.  Now, instead of hitting the landfill, the shells are being collected and returned to Long Island Sound.

It is thanks to a new partnership that started up this month between the Max Restaurant Group and CORR. “We collect the shells from restaurants and festivals so they’re not throwing them in the trash.”

CORR received grant funding from the Department of Agriculture this year after running a small shell recycling program out of Fairfield for eight years. Now for the first time, they are expanding the program statewide.

Once a week, the crew collects shells placed in buckets from about a dozen restaurants that they have formed partnerships with.

Each week at the commercial shuck house and wholesaler Gulf Shrimp Company in Plantsville, they gather another 8,000 pounds of shells.  All of the shells get transported to a curing site in East Haven, where there is a mountain of oyster and clam shells only growing.

The first shell dump happened on July 11. There are now 80,000 pounds of shells, and CORR said by the end of the month, there will likely be 100,000 pounds.

As the CORR co-founders explain, baby oysters attach to oyster shells on the ocean floor as they are growing.

They say a healthy oyster population has many environmental benefits. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, removing harmful material like algae, according to CORR.

Their reefs also protect the coast from storm surges, and create habitats for other marine species.

“Oysters are kind of a very miraculous creature,” Macklin said.

“We’re reducing waste,” Macklin said. “And we’re creating new habitat in the Long Island Sound for marine organisms, which will benefit the commercial industry as well.”