Our Projects

We reduce waste. We educate. We help restore New York Harbor. And we love eating oysters! 

Why Compost and Why Oyster Shells?

Earth Matter NY operates the BOP Shell Collection Program in order to supply BOP with oyster shells generated and collected from many restaurant and event partners in New York City. This oyster shell recovery initiative reinforces Earth Matter’s mission on raising New Yorkers’ awareness on urban ecology, circular economy, and the importance of individual responsibilities for taking care of our planet. The oyster shell collection program aims to become part of Earth Matter’s ongoing educational dialogue with citizens about the concept of zero waste and the close loop of organic materials, where all organic waste is simply a link among other interconnected ecological processes.

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Food scraps can be processed into compost. Oyster shells are food scraps and can be composted as well, but they take a longer time to decompose. Should they go to the trash bin and be deposited in a landfill? No! Oyster shells can be reused in many ways. In fact, at Earth Matter we do love to compost oyster shells in our process! Shells provide air space and calcium carbonate, a critical mineral in healthy soils. Calcium flakes off into the pile a little at a time! Thanks to their particular calcium carbonate composition, oyster shells are valuable natural resource and can be used for multiple environmental purposes:

  • Entire oyster shells are a perfect substratum for oyster reef restoration. At the very beginning of their lives, oyster larvae spend three weeks searching for a place to settle. If they don’t find a hard surface with the right pH and composition they fall into the mud and die. The shells of other oysters are a perfect hard substrate.
  • Crushed oyster shell can also be used to create nesting habitats for threatened seabird species.
  • Ground oyster shell is a fantastic organic calcium source for soils.

The Oyster Shell Collection Program is part of the broader Billion Oyster Project (“BOP”), an ecosystem restoration and education project that aims to restore one billion live oysters into New York Harbor over the next 20 years and in the process educate thousands of students about the ecology, history and economy of New York Harbor. The project, founded by New York Harbor School, is a partnership of schools, businesses, nonprofits, and volunteers all working together to grow a billion oysters to restore the New York Harbor estuary, and make New York City a healthier and more resilient place to live. Earth Matter NY takes its part by operating the BOP Shell Collection Program in order to supply BOP with oyster shells generated and collected from many restaurant and event partners in New York City. This oyster shell recovery initiative reinforces Earth Matter’s mission on raising New Yorkers’ awareness on urban ecology, circular economy, and the importance of individual responsibilities for taking care of our planet. The oyster shell collection program aims to become part of Earth Matter’s ongoing educational dialogue with citizens about the concept of zero waste and the close loop of organic materials, where all organic waste is simply a link among other interconnected ecological processes.

The BOP Oyster Shell Life Cycle

Thanks to the Billion Oyster Project and the Oyster Shell Collection Program, 400 cubic yards of oyster shell will go back to the water closing the oyster shell cycle. The cycle starts when our partner restaurants shuck fresh farmed oysters for their customers, separating the flat top shell from the bottom shell. After eating an oyster, we leave the calcium carbonate bottom shell in the plate. Then participating restaurants sort both top and bottom shell from other organic waste and save them in specific bins. The Shell Collection Programs collects and transports full bins to a curing site in Staten Island where the oyster shell is dumped and stored outside for a year. After 12 months curing the shell under all kind of weather conditions, all flesh and bacteria are removed from it and the Shell Collection Program provides the Billion Oyster Project with cured shell ready to be seeded. In this second part of the cycle, The Billion Oyster Project spawns live oysters and seeds the cured shell with oyster larvae. Spat-on-shell will grow in different floating nurseries and dockside oyster gardens throughout NY Harbor and, finally, adult oyster clusters will be planted in five experimental reef restoration sites where they will continue reproducing and cleaning the water.

One live oyster is capable of filtering 50 gallons of water in one day. One dozen oysters eaten at one of the many BOP partner restaurants can result in the filtration of over eight million gallons of New York Harbor water in one year. Imagine what one billion oysters could do!

Donate Shells

New Yorkers eat up to half a million oysters in local restaurants every week. Now, thanks to the BOP Shell Collection Program, “many tones of shells will be recovered, cured, and reused to grow new live oysters – up to 20 per saved shell! – build estuary habitat, and improve the quality of our Harbor and our City.

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Through the Shell Collection Program, restaurants and food events have the opportunity to remove shells from their organic waste stream, reducing the volume and weight of their waste. There are environmental benefits as well as economic. Restaurants can save hundreds of dollars every year, but the benefits for business go beyond. Restaurants can:

  • Reduce their environmental footprint (waste reduction).
  • Raise environmental awareness among their staff.
  • Partner with local organizations in order to develop projects that benefit local communities and their environments (corporate social responsibility).
  • Become an example of business responsibility, inspiring and encouraging other companies to implement environmental best practices and get their benefits.
  • Lead the change towards more sustainable business models and a circular economy.
  • Raise public awareness about the benefits that oyster farming generates in aquatic ecosystems as well as the benefits of collecting and reusing shells for environmental purposes.
  • Help citizens reduce their individual environmental footprint.

If you’re a restaurant or an event organizer hoping to get involved, please contact the Billion Oyster Project Shell Collection Program manager and/or submit the online enrollment form. If you have questions, they might be answered in our FAQ. However, the easiest way to get involved and support our Program is choosing our restaurant partners to enjoy some delicious oyster plates with fabulous pairings. Try them all!

The Billion Oyster Project Shell Collection Program

Follow our Flickr page for progress updates!

Shell Collection Program Updates

Winter 2016: Shell Program Updates

Shell Program Updates by Alberto Carreras 2016 has been a shellarious year! First, we accomplished all our milestones. Sixty restaurants partners helped us add 360,000 pounds of shells to our curing site reaching a total of 500 cy. The program also partnered with...