Pittsburgh Joins Oyster Shell Recycling Program To Help Restore The Chesapeake Bay

May 24, 2019

Pittsburgh has become the first city outside the Chesapeake Bay region to recycle used oyster shells through the non-profit Oyster Recovery Partnership. The shells are used to rebuild oyster reefs in the bay.

Six Pittsburgh restaurants — Eleven, Merchant Oyster Co., Muddy Waters Oyster Bar, Off the Hook, Spirit & Tales and the St. Clair Country Club — will regularly donate used oyster shells to the Partnership. After the shells are cleaned, they are aged for about one year. Then oyster larvae are attached and they're planted in the Chesapeake Bay.

"Pittsburgh-area restaurants have sent their oyster shells to the landfill," said Joylette Portlock, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh. "But instead of that, now there's an infrastructure set up for them to have the shells recycled for good use."

It won't cost restaurant to participate in the program. The Partnership picks up Pittsburgh shells, which are kept in airtight containers, on a monthly basis.

Stephan Abel, executive director of the Partnership, said the natural oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay has been severely depleted.

"We want all the shell to go back in the bay, it supports valuable ecosystem services as they provide habitats for other species," Abel said. "But it comes down to logistics, it comes down to vehicles and the capacity by which to do it."

Not only do oyster reefs provide a home for other species, but one singular oyster can filter 50 gallons of water every day. 

The pilot for the local recycling program began in the fall with three restaurants. Since then, Pittsburgh restaurants have recycled 559 bushels of shells, or 19 tons. According to the Oyster Recovery Partnership, this could plant up to 2.8 million oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. 

The program works with 350 seafood businesses and 70 public drop-off locations in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and now Pittsburgh.