The Importance of Oyster Shell Recycling

From backyard roasts to your favorite raw bar, oysters are unarguably considered a local delicacy along the East Coast. As one of the more popular seafood choices, it is crucial to recognize the importance of sustainable management and mindful consumption with the practice of oyster shell recycling. We met up with Claire Neubert, the peninsula oyster ambassador for Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to talk about just that; shell recycling, ways to help improve the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, and building habits to ensure oysters are enjoyed in future generations.

As members of the seafood industry, Sam Rust Seafood acknowledges our duty to uncover sustainable methods that consider the ever-changing and evolving environment. One of those methods includes the effort to assist the restoration of the local oyster population with the instillation of a public oyster recycling bin. From 2018 to 2021 alone, our oyster bin has collected 595.5 bushels and 490,000 shells, which is enough to seed five acres of oyster reef and can provide for 3,500 oyster gardens. So why should we give a shuck?

On our fieldtrip to the Hampton Public Pier to meet our local oyster expert Claire, we discussed the intersectionality of seafood and the development of our coastal home, Hampton, Virginia. Historically, we continue to enjoy a long-lived seafood heritage, which includes the establishment of Sam Rust Seafood in 1938, a fourth-generation seafood business. During this time, the local seafood business was flourishing and could even be considered one of the main supporters in the overall prosperity of Hampton. Unfortunately, many were unaware of the consequences that derived from the lack of depositing oyster shells back into the Bay and it became apparent that populations were seriously depleting.

So, where were the shells going? Shells were used for fertilizer, landscapes, street planning, construction, and many eventually ended in landfill. Population decrease was also largely attributed to overfishing and events in the early 1920’s that led to 25 million gallons of sewage water that was pumped into our waterways each day, which affected 10,000 acres of oyster beds. Our community desired for a Bay that was clean enough for swimming and fishing. Locals, including Claire Neubert, participate in and encourage an inventive way of filtering our local waters–oysters gardening.

Oysters are fantastic filter feeders and are not only crucial to coastal ecosystems, but also the health of our Bay. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, and one shell can provide the environment and life for ten baby oysters, known as spat, leading to the filtration of 500 gallons in one day! These powerhouses in a shell also establish reefs, which not only provides the essential habitat for many different species in the Chesapeake Bay, but also act as natural barriers to control erosion and inevitably protect our beloved shorelines.

Down at our local pier, Claire and another volunteer oyster gardener, Maggie Vaughan, showed us the specifics of oyster gardening and how much each oyster cage can truly make a difference. You can get involved by growing oysters at your own dock, growing them at a designated marina or public site, or by joining a local community oyster garden. Oyster gardening is a great opportunity for kids to get involved with nature and to motivate the understanding of conservation. Claire revealed that oyster gardening is like a yoga to her and even taps into a Zen mindset; a quality not only important for growing minds, but for us adults too.

Interested in doing your part to help clean up the Bay and restore oyster populations? Awareness and mindful consumption are key in continuing our oyster-eating heritage here along the East Coast. The next time you buy oysters for your restaurant or for a family oyster roast, take a trip to a recycling station, or become a local oyster gardener! The Chesapeake Bay Foundation hosts annual, “Oyster Round-Ups” during the summer where new gardeners get the supplies and knowledge they need to grow, and where current gardeners return their year-old oysters, so that they can be planted onto a sanctuary reef. The first Round Up for the season is June 22, 6-8PM at Elizabeth Lakes pool located in Hampton, Virginia. If interested, you first must register! See below for more information!

Our everyday actions can have a large impact on the Bay, and recycling oyster shells is an important, direct action to ensure the delicious experience of oysters for future populations. So, we encourage you to save your shells and use oyster drop off bins, which are used to host shells until the Chesapeake Bay Foundation comes to collect and clean shells before they make their way back into our local waterways. Sam Rust Seafood is honored to be a small part of it as a free 24/7 oyster drop off site for oyster shells at our Hampton facility. We also offer backhaul services for our oyster customers, so chat with your sales representative about scheduling an oyster pick-up at your next delivery! Visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation website for more information on oyster recycling, gardening, and bin locations along the Peninsula.


New Gardeners ONLY: Hampton Roads Oyster Gardening Seminars – Chesapeake Bay Foundation (

Returning Gardeners ONLY: Hampton Roads Oyster Gardening Roundups – Chesapeake Bay Foundation (

Quotation Mark

Often I’ll talk with my account manager at Sam Rust and they’ll come up with a product that I didn’t know about or you don’t see in the market – which helps keep my menu exciting.

Steve Gellas Head Chef - Off The Hook