Empty oyster shells - including those discarded from Christmas dinners across the country - are being recycled in surprising ways in France, including as beautiful porcelain, bird feed, and eyeglasses.
Oysters (huitres) are a popular delicacy on Christmas tables in France - in fact, France is the largest oyster producer and consumer in Europe, with 80,000 tonnes consumed per year - but this leaves enormous piles of empty shells that normally have no further use.
Enter Mathieu Poirier, a member of the ‘Toutenvélo’ cooperative, who is helping to recycle tonnes of leftover shells.
Mr Poirier travels between restaurants in La Rochelle on his bicycle, loading the empty shells onto its trailer. He transports up to half a tonne of them in this way each week, taking them to the ‘Ovive’ recycling plant.
“We want all of our waste to be recycled, so this is fabulous,” said Nicolas Brossard, director general of the two-Michelin-starred Christopher Coutanceau restaurant to FranceInfo.
“As soon as we realised there are companies that make use of the shells, we approached them.”
The Ovive recycling plant processes 20 tonnes of shells each day, most of which come from oyster farms.
Inside, the shells are sorted, washed, dried, and then crushed to make calcium-rich feed for chickens and even ostriches.
‘A magic powder’
Another company, Alegina, uses ground oyster shells to make porcelain.
“It’s really a magic powder,” said founder Philippe Gaboriau.
His company makes pure white porcelain tableware, including some designs directly inspired by the oyster shells themselves. The powder brings a sparkling lustre to the porcelain’s surface. Many restaurants then use these dishes to serve their oyster recipes, in a full-circle recycling loop.
One eyewear manufacturer in Brittany - named Friendly Frenchy - makes ‘fashion’ glasses frames from the shells. Oyster shells give a slightly pink colour, while scallop shells have a blue tone.
The ideas are innovative, but finding a use for the old shells is not new in itself: farmers have long used crushed oyster shells to help their plants grow - especially vines - and they have even been used experimentally in the mortar used to build homes.