Oyster Shell Paths


In working with a client on a recent project, I specified crushed oyster shells as the path material. It gives the paths the same look as Colonial Williamsburg, it reuses waste materials, and the light color of the shells reflect any available light at night, aiding in wayfinding. I thought it would be a great application for a rarely used product. As it turns out, there’s a reason they’re infrequently used: they are very hard to come by, and the price reflects that.

Apparently oyster shells are not just a trash product. As I discovered, the shellfishing industry takes the shells back out to sea and dumps them. Not to get rid of them in an “out of sight, out of mind” approach, but as a boost to the oyster population. As Joyce Deaton explains on the Cape Fear Pilot’s website:

Baby oysters start out as free-floating organisms, but soon settle to the bottom and attach themselves to hard surfaces. If they can’t find a hard substrate, they die. They’ll grow on pilings and concrete, but their preferred spot is on oyster shells. A mound of shells placed in brackish water with a good tidal flow will soon become an oyster reef, hosting not only the young oysters but algae, worms, barnacles, crabs, minnows and fish. Soon a diverse marine habitat results from the simple act of depositing the shells.

In addition, the filter-feeding oysters make the water cleaner by feeding on plankton and waterborne detritus.

Several states have formal shell recycling programs, and in some cases volunteers bring dump trailers to festivals, oyster roasts, and restaurants to collect shells. In other areas, those who make their living from oysters regard it as a best practice, and bring the shells with them when they head out for the next catch. This is the kind of sustainability I can get behind! It’s given me a whole new appreciation of what I had previously assumed was ending up in landfills. It looks like I’ll be searching for a product that will give me a similar appearance, since the oyster shells seem to end up where they’re needed most.

Part of the reason I posted this is because I think this is a great reason not to be able to use a product I specified. The other reason is because I did some exhaustive searches on Google, trying to track down oyster shells for landscape use. Instead, I got several links for shell recycling programs, and several more of people wanting oyster shell paths but unable to find a source. So if you’re a fellow traveller who came here looking for a source- the best price I found was out of South Carolina, at just under $1,000 per cubic yard plus freight!