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A great alternative to gravel, crushed shells can be used on paths, patios, courtyards, driveways, and even bocce ball courts (the shells don't hold water or imprints from shoes and balls). Another benefit is that, as long as they come from a sustainable harvesting operation, shells are environmentally friendly. Shells that are sold in bulk for hardscaping purposes are left over from seafood harvesting, so the shellfish have been removed. The good news: Shell paths and driveways can't crack, so repairs aren't part of the package. Above: Oyster shells line the paths of a kitchen garden at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
As the shells are walked on or driven over, they break into smaller pieces that disperse evenly, creating a stable surface that's not prone to the ruts and holes you get with crushed stone toppings.

The experts at Emerald Landscape Supply in Massachusetts recommend a 3-inch-deep application.
Typically, the shells have been thoroughly washed, so there should be little left to generate stink.
Clam shells seem to be the least expensive, offered at about $40 per cubic yard, or $50 per ton.
Some installers suggest starting with a gravel base, but it must be compacted and leveled (preferably by a professional) so the surface doesn't become soft. A steep drive is not a good application, as the shells are likely to collect at the bottom.
Oyster shells, primarily off-white and gray, break down in a way that makes them more compact and, subsequently, more stable over time.

Clam shells, mostly off-white or yellow-white, are slightly more fragile and will break down faster than oyster shells.
The Atlantic coast is the primary source of shells; if you live elsewhere, shipping may be the most expensive part of the project. And unlike gravel, crushed shell hardscaping rarely encounters issues with weeds or pests: The shells' sharp edges act as a natural deterrent (but they're not so sharp as to be an issue for tires or shoes).
Despite initial variations in color, all the shells bleach under the sun and become lighter over time.

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