Friday, April 06, 2012

Why Wellfleet Restaurants Should Recycle Oyster Shells

Yesterday evening Tracey Barry Hunt of Wellfleet's Recycling Committee led an informative meeting on green initiatives for local businesses. The three topics under discussion were the recycling of oyster shells, green certification, and general waste management. A Nauset Disposal rep spoke on this last subject, but I was not able to stay for his presentation. Pam Anderson, from Cape & Islands Green, explained programs that enable businesses to go green without expense and described the benefits of certification. What I want to tell you about today, however, is Curt Felix’s talk to encourage restaurant owners to recycle oyster shells. First, a bit of background: the cost of trash disposal for the Town of Wellfleet will shortly skyrocket. For this reason, the town and its very active Recycling Committee have been looking into ways to reduce the volume trucked off Cape. That is part of the equation. The other important part is water quality: our harbor is not up to State standards. A group of clever individuals on the Wastewater Commission have come up with an original idea to avoid sewers by dumping discarded shells in the harbor to encourage the growth of more oysters. (Oyster seed, called "spat," attaches to shells, "cultch," to create new oysters.) Additional oysters will function as a filtration system and alleviate the overload of nutrients. Since the heavy shells get recycled, the SEMASS bill goes down. More oysters, less pollution, lower SEMASS bills: a win-win situation.

The Wellfleet oyster population is at one tenth its historic record. It was interesting to learn that the inner harbor, over near Power’s Landing, used to have masses of oyster shells where now there’s only sand.

Curt Felix explained the plan to provide restaurant owners with 25-galloon buckets that will be picked up at intervals to be determined on an individual basis. The buckets full of shells will be replaced with empty buckets. The shells will eventually be dumped in the harbor at specific spots, like the area shown in the top photo, between the row of condos and the marina.

At Oysterfest 2011,100,000 oysters were eaten. The State exceptionally agreed to allow the corresponding five tons of shells, from known sources in Wellfleet, to be dumped back into the marina without delay. (To avoid disease, shells from foreign sources must remain on land for four years.) Felix expects around 30 tons of shells from our restaurants per year but this is only a geusstimate. These shells will create a habitat for baby oysters, and the oysters will make the costly installation of sewers unnecessary. Nifty, don’t you think? Here's the plan: