Recycle Oyster Shells on Cape Cod

how to recycle oyster shells on cape cod

Cape Cod is known worldwide for its fresh oysters. Each year thousands of oysters are consumed by tourists and locals alike, leaving thousands of discarded shells left behind. What happens to all of those shells?

Don’t throw them away! Oyster shells can be recycled and actually make a great habitat for young oysters. In this article, we look at how to properly recycle oyster shells on Cape Cod and the shell recycling programs that each town on the Cape has.

How Do I Recycle Oyster Shells on Cape Cod?

You can’t just throw oyster shells in the recycling bin that gets picked up on a weekly basis. Instead, you need to ensure that you follow the proper rules and procedures and bring them to a specific drop-off point. In general, you should follow these simple guidelines when recycling oyster shells:

  • Don’t just throw them in the water – recycling programs take great care to properly clean oyster shells before putting them back in the water. In addition, they look for oyster active beds where they will be the most useful.
  • Separate shells and trash – Before bringing shells to a recycling station, make sure to separate the shells from any other items (recyclable or not). Your recycled shells should be shells only.
  • Rinse off the shells – If you used any sauces, make sure to give the shells a quick rinse. There’s no need to thoroughly clean them, but just a quick run under the faucet or with a hose should do.
  • Check program restrictions – make sure to look at the rules for the recycling program where you intend to bring your shells. We’ve given you some help by providing general information on each town’s programs below.

Oyster Recycling Programs on Cape Cod

Most towns on Cape Cod have their own recycling programs. We’ve provided information on each town’s recycling program to get you headed in the right direction.


The town of Barnstable has placed shell recycling bins at Scudder Lane, Cordwood Landing, and Bridge street. All species of shells are permitted in these bins, regardless of where they were harvested. The shells do not need to be picked clean but should be rinsed off before depositing them.

The recycling bins are easily identifiable and have signs on them reading, “only shells and not trash.”

Shells deposited in the above-mentioned bins are brought to the Barnstable Transfer Station to be aged. The recycled shells will then be used as part of the “Remote Set Program,” where oyster larvae are encouraged to attach themselves to the recycled shells.


how to recycle oyster shells on cape cod

Hyannis has partnered with the town of Barnstable to create and operate an oyster upweller. An oyster upweller provides a safe space for seed-size and juvenile oysters to grow in a nurtured environment. Once they are fully grown, they are released into the Cape Cod waters.

The upweller also helps clean the Hyannis Harbor by pumping in water from the harbor, having the oysters clean it, and then having it pumped back into the harbor.

Recycled shells from both Hyannis and Barnstable are used to help seeded colonies grow in the upweller tanks. Visit the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition website to learn more.


While Brewster does not have shell collection bins around the community, the Department of Natural Resources does accept oyster and clam shells. Their office can be found on Main Street in Brewster.


The town of Sandwich has recently begun a shell recycling program located in the Murkwood Conservation Area located at 479 Route 6A. There are three black totes located in the parking lot of the conservation area.
The Sandwich shell recycling program is currently only collecting oyster and quahog shells from Sandwich shellfish beds only.


Every year in October, the town of Wellfleet hosts an annual OysterFest. In 2018 alone, the festival produced almost 5 tons of remaining shells.

Since 2012, Wellfleet Shellfish Promotions and Tasting Inc. (SPAT) has made a habit of donating shells from the festival for the purposes of oyster propagation. Therefore, you can attend OysterFest knowing that your shells are going to be reused!

Martha’s Vineyard

how to recycle oyster shells on cape codThe Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group has been running a Shell Recovery Partnership program since 2011 to reduce waste and aid in shellfish restorations. From April through October, the group collects discarded shells from 8 to 10 restaurants and places them in a secure location in Edgartown.

After aging for a year, the shells are used as part of a hatchery where oyster larvae can attach to them and grow in a space safe from predators.


In 2014, in partnership with the Nantucket Shellfish Association, the Natural Resources Department created a shell collection program to encourage Nantucket restaurants to recycle oyster shells. Since its inception, the program has collected over 200,000 pounds of oyster and quahog shells that have gone towards Nantucket’s oyster restoration project.

More About Shellfish on Cape Cod

Looking to learn more about shellfish on Cape Cod? Read our article about Shellfish Aquaculture and Water Quality Improvement on Cape Cod.

Interested in learning how to catch your own shellfish? Find out how by reading the article on recreational oystering on Cape Cod.




Please feel free to share your favorite Cape Cod experience about this topic with our audience!

Leave a Review or Comment

Free Event Listings for a month

Related Stories