Alabama Oyster Shell Recycling Program, Alabama Coastal Foundation
The Alabama Oyster Shell Recycling Program (AOSRP) is a successful partnership designed and implemented by the Alabama Coastal Foundation (ACF) for the collection of oyster shells from participating restaurants in Mobile and Baldwin Counties that serve oysters on the half shell. After curing and cleaning, the shells are redistributed to restore oyster reefs and for other aquatic restoration projects in coastal Alabama.
“For years, people have wanted to return used shells to the reef, but there was no system in place,” said Mark Berte, executive director of ACF. The AOSRP was developed as an affordable alternative for restaurants to recycle shells rather than sending them to landfills.
Oyster shells provide critical habitat to baby oysters (called spat) as they develop and grow, but historic oyster reefs or “beds” in the coastal waters of Alabama have experienced decline for many years. By collecting and redistributing oyster shells, participants are providing spat with prime habitat and helping to restore Alabama reefs. The reefs in turn clean and filter water, improving water quality and supporting a complex aquatic system teeming with life.
“The program includes a substantial amount of publicity,” said Neil Johnston, a longtime board member with ACF. Outreach materials inform community members and tourists how they can support oyster restoration by simply visiting AOSRP partner restaurants. Outreach materials extend beyond simple marketing, with restaurants partnering to produce educational materials and some even engaging teachers and students in the classroom.
In addition to positive feedback from the community, participation also makes economic sense by significantly reducing waste disposal fees. “ACF approaches the project from a business perspective,” said Cecilia Mace, Marketing Director for Original Oyster House.
To date, AOSRP has grown to include 31 member restaurants and has collected over 5.5 million oyster shells, which translate to over 14.1 acres of oyster reefs to be restored. A grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided the initial funding to start AOSRP. Today, the AOSRP continues to operate with funds from the participating restaurants, donations from restaurant customers, and contributions from community supporters.
“We are proud to have piloted this project,” said Mace. “It’s about doing the right thing.”