Shell recycling programs offer many benefits in Wellfleet and other seaside communities

Recycled shells aid in new oyster production, storm surge mitigation and reduction in nitrogen

Editor's note: The letter below was received in response to "Brewster launches shell recycling program" posted on August 17, 2014.

To the Editor:

Just a really minor correction on the great article about Brewster starting a shell recycling program.

Massachusetts DEP considers shell part of the required food waste program in effect for restaurants that exceed a certain size. Mass Oyster Project has steadily been growing its shell recycling program in the Boston area which should also benefit from this regulatory change. In some states it is illegal to dispose of shell and it must be recycled due to a lack of material for re-seeding and restoration programs.

Wellfleet’s shell recycling program was started in 2010 as a part of the Wellfleet Wastewater Committee’s effort to improve water quality in our estuaries. It consists of 4 parts:

  1. Public recycling: collection at the transfer station (anyone can bring shell from any town)
  2. Town operated seaclam recycling: over 3,000 tons to date, from seaclam processing plants off Cape
  3.  SPAT shell recycling: over 20 tons from Oysterfest since 2010
  4. Commercial Restaurant shell recycling (Town Program with local private haulers): similar volumes to Oysterfest

All of this shell is collected at the transfer station and hauled in the spring by DPW to a barge operated by the Shellfish Department for placement in the Harbor before the oysters spawn.

Collectively these programs have produced over 20 million new oysters in Wellfleet Harbor and on-going water quality monitoring has documented a 70% reduction in nitrogen at the focused restoration site across from the Town Pier.

Wellfleet recently received a prestigious national American Public Works Association 2014 project of the Year award for its Oyster Project (the backbone of which is recycled shell). Efforts like these are taking hold in several communities on the Cape and have the potential to save taxpayers millions by restoring the natural features that recycled nutrients and kept our ecosystem in balance a hundred or so years ago. It is now out of balance in many estuaries on the Cape and has been the focus of the Cape 208 wastewater planning initiative. We have lost 95% of the oyster population and 65% of the salt marsh, key pieces of the ecosystem that are breeding habitat for 80-90% of our commercial and recreational fish stocks according to NOAA. So while catch limits may be part of the solution, restoring breeding grounds may be even more important.

These features also provide storm surge mitigation (they naturally break up wave energy), help neutralize acid in our waters and absorb significant amounts of Carbon Dioxide.

Hats off to Brewster!!

Curt Felix
Vice Chair
Wellfleet Comprehensive Wastewater Committee

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