Join us on Tuesday, September 26 for an exclusive tour of Canada’s first zoo-based biogas plant.
You teach all about renewable energy…. now come see what it looks like – and smells like – in person!
Located next to the Toronto Zoo, the ZooShare Biogas Plant processes “zoo poo” and other food waste to produce clean electricity. Starting this fall, tours of this unique facility will be available for school groups, grades 1-12.
Come learn how the biogas process works while enjoying barrier-free access to the site. Peek inside the two-million-liter digester, and then climb to the roof for a bird’s-eye view. Witness renewable electricity, sustainability, and STEM brought to life in this one-of-a-kind tour!
Date: Tuesday September 26, 2023
Tour Times: Drop-in between 4:30 and 6:30pm
Each tour lasts approximately 30 minutes
Location: ZooShare Biogas Plant
1749a Meadowvale Road
Located on the east side of Meadowvale Road, across from the Toronto Zoo parking lot
Parking: free (in the large lot just outside the gate of the biogas plant)
This event is for teachers, teacher candidates and other educators only
Limit of 1 entry per teacher
Does not include access to the Toronto Zoo
All visitors will be required to sign a waiver before beginning the tour
Sturdy shoes and weather-appropriate clothing are recommended
On October 2, 2021, we held the first-ever ZooShare Biogas Plant Tours! We were so excited to finally get the chance to invite visitors to the plant and are so thrilled with the turnout.
Attendees spent the tour exploring the biogas plant, taking a first-hand look at the various steps involved in the creation of biogas, asking questions and learning from experienced ZooShare team members. Thank you to everyone who attended the tours, your interest and enthusiasm meant the world to us. The event ran very smoothly and our team had a blast putting it together. We can’t wait to host the rest of the ZooShare membership at the plant in the near future.
ZooShare has also hosted many community leaders over the past few months.
We would like to thank MP Gary Anandasangaree, MPP Raymond Cho, MPP – Minister of Energy Todd Smith and MPP Vijay Thanigasalam for visiting the ZooShare Biogas Plant. We look forward to continuing to work together with our community and our representatives to create a more sustainable future.
Right now, we are facing a decision that will affect Toronto for the next 50 years. How will we deal with the city’s waste?
A future vision of Toronto. Credit: Flickr/Daniel Calero Jimenez 2014
Over the next 6 months, members of the public and city councillors alike will discuss and debate the fate of Toronto’s waste via the proposed Long Term Waste Management Strategy. At ZooShare, we firmly believe that there is no such thing as “waste”, only wasted resources. But how does a city like Toronto implement this philosophy into a 50-year plan?
A Zero Waste future is “a future where there is no waste, where everything is designed to be reused or to become the materials and resources to create something new”.1 As you know, at ZooShare we’ll be doing just that. There are other local examples too: Take our former contest partners Furniture Bank and/or Toronto Tool Library (read more about each of us in the report). We are all examples of local businesses participating in the circular economy, “where unwanted materials are not disposed in a landfill or incinerator, but…keep valuable resources circulating in the local economy, supporting good green jobs, benefitting the community and reducing harmful environmental impacts”.2
Credit: Toronto Environmental Alliance “Zero Waste Toronto A Vision for Our City” 2016 Page 7
But Toronto still has a ways to go. According to TEA’s report, a lot less could be going to landfills, especially organic waste (food, plant and yard waste). Despite the Green Bin and Yard Composing programmes, 182,000 tonnes of organics are still put in the garbage and sent to the landfill each year!4 This is why waste Education and Effective Communications is one of the priorities outlined in TEA’s report.
Credit: Toronto Environmental Alliance “Zero Waste Toronto A Vision for Our City” 2016 Page 15
Toronto is ready to take the next step towards a zero-waste future. As outlined in TEA’s report: “We have the programs and infrastructure to reduce, reuse and recycle almost all of our waste. We have an excited and robust group of businesses and communities ready to scale up with creative solutions that support a circular economy. Now is the time to continue our zero waste journey.”5
Hopefully, in 2066, Torontonians will be living in a zero-waste city. Make it happen. Do your part now.
1 Toronto Environmental Alliance “Zero Waste Strategy A Vision for Our City” 2016 Page 03
2 Toronto Environmental Alliance “Zero Waste Strategy A Vision for Our City” 2016 Page 06
3 Toronto Environmental Alliance “Zero Waste Strategy A Vision for Our City” 2016 Page 16
4 Toronto Environmental Alliance “Zero Waste Strategy A Vision for Our City” 2016 Page 18
5 Toronto Environmental Alliance “Zero Waste Strategy A Vision for Our City” 2016 Page 24
If you are an animal-lover, environmentalist and/or conservationist, then you have probably heard the full gamut of zoo criticism. Yes, animals belong in the wild…But what happens when “the wild” disappears?
First, let’s step back a bit and start with a brief history of zoos…They have come a long way from the menageries of the Victorian era, which were designed first for the scientific study of animals, then quickly took off as a form of mass public entertainment:
It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the idea of creating a space for the needs of animals was developed into a reality. Up until that point, the Modernist movement had influenced the design of zoos, meaning that they were designed to be functional. On her website, desigingzoos.com, Zoological Planner Stacey Ludlum writes: “This belief, along with the advances in medicine and desire for sterilization, created zoo exhibits that were easily hosed down and cleaned regularly. This meant concrete everywhere.” 1
It took Architect-turned-Zoo Director David Hancocks to revolutionize animal enclosures. By redesigning the gorilla cages into habitat-inspired enclosures, he not only changed the philosophy of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, but inadvertently designed a new model for modern zoos everywhere…But, as he explains, change did not come easily: “If a traditional Zoo Director had seen or heard what we were doing he would have stopped it” he says, “I had Zoo Directors tell me it was stupid, irresponsible and unnecessary…If the gorillas climbed they would fall and break their necks…We were putting their health at risk.” Despite the criticism, the team at the Woodland Park Zoo pushed ahead, and soon “landscape immersion” was born. This coincided nicely with the building animal rights movement. (You can hear the rest of David Hancocks’ interview here.)
Just as larger societal movements influenced zoo design of the past, so too do they influence zoo design of the present and future. Currently, with our focus on “the brain” (MRI technology etc) we are now designing zoos that reflect that focus.
Currently, Zoos are trying to create opportunities for animals to use their brains as they would in the wild–even if those opportunities don’t look like “the wild”. A good example of this is the Philadelphia Zoo’s new trail system, Zoo360, which allows animals to explore the Zoo above visitor’s heads. This campus-wide network of see-through mesh trails links similar animal habitats, so animals can use one another’s spaces in a time-sharing system. 2
Andy Baker, the Chief Operating Officer at the Philadelphia Zoo, says “this really came out of our goal of creating best experiences for animals, and I truly think this reinvents the way animals experience our zoo…We’re not truly trying to recreate the wild. We’re trying to create environmental opportunities, so the opportunities for new sensory input, exploration, freedom of locomotion…The same functional needs and opportunities that animals have in the wild, without having to recreate the natural habitat.”3
But moving further into the future, we may see a model that is truly inspired by nature, and doesn’t just mimic the landscape or the activities that animals do in the wild.
“Zootopia” is a concept that flips the modern zoo on its head. The Givskud Zoo and Safari Park in Denmark is working with an architectural firm to create a zoo in which the animals roam free and the humans are in cages–or at least, in more confined spaces (safe from the animals). Architect Bjarke Ingels says “What we’ve tried to do is eliminate all traces of human architecture.” NPR reports that buildings are to be “masked as rolling hills and hidden barriers in waterways [that] replace visible fences and barricades”.4The model is inspired by the rapid collision of nature and cities, or as Ingels gently puts it “the distinction between the city and nature … is blurring more and more…It becomes more relevant to make sure that the other life forms can actually cohabit successfully with us.”
Cohabitation is a very important point. Because, up until recently, humans and wild animals have been able to maintain separate lives…But as cities and the human population grow, animals are having a harder time to find space to live. In fact, many don’t.
Currently, we are polluting rivers, clear cutting forests and acidifying the ocean faster than our environment–and most animals–can keep up. The latest edition of the WWF’s Living Planet Report is devastating: Since 1970, 52% of all wildlife on Earth has been wiped out.
Let me repeat that: In the past 40 years, half of the Earth’s wildlife has gone extinct.
Credit: Courtest of WWF International
When The Guardian interviewed the Zoological Society of London’s Director about this report, he said, “If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news…But [this extinction] is happening in the great outdoors.”
The implication here is that the vast scale of what we have done to the planet is too hard for most people to fathom–perhaps they don’t even know…But in a smaller, controlled environment, such as the local Zoo, people care. Julia Phillips, a Toronto Zoo employee explains, “When people see a live animal, they have a desire and a passion to protect that animal.” Zoos inspire us to do more to help the animals we see.
What many people may not know however, as Phillips explains, is that “Zoos play a really important role in terms of protecting species and acting as assurance populations for species [whose] habitat is no longer there for them in the wild…We can eventually bring them back to life, it’s sort of a Noah’s Ark in a way.” In her TED Talk, the Toronto Zoo’s Gabriela Mastromonaco also uses “the arc” analogy for today’s modern zoos, making the case that Zoos are ensuring the survival of endangered species that can be released into the wild after their habitat stabilizes.
In a video released this summer, The Toronto Zoo shows that they have a storage facility of genetic material (e.g. animal sperm, eggs, embryos etc) in tanks of liquid nitrogen, in which “there are herds of bison, prides of lion, and all sorts of wildlife that we don’t have enough space for in the Zoo itself, however these specimens fit perfectly well in the frozen Zoo, and are waiting to help repopulate species as needed. We are dedicated to conducting groundbreaking scientific research that will ultimately save many species that would otherwise disappear from our planet forever.”
Going forward, the public-facing exhibits of Zoos and the way we interact with the animals may change, but the role of zoos in the conservation of animals and valuable ecosystems must continue, and indeed, accelerate. Hopefully, we can all play a role in the protection and conservation of what is left of “the wild”.
PS You can read more about the Toronto Zoo’s conservation efforts in their Strategic Plan.
In July, we had the pleasure of meeting some of our fellow food-waste innovators by participating in the Wast(ED): Food Education Speaker Series, a panel discussion initiated by the City of Toronto that featured local organizations exploring innovative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle food waste.
From left to right: Lori Nikkel of Second Harvest , Sue Arndt of Not Far from the Tree, Mike Nevin of FoodShare Toronto, Frances Darwin of ZooShare (not pictured: Helene St. Jaques of Informa Market Research). Photo Credit: Twitter @2ndHarvestTO July 9th 2015
An important distinction between ZooShare and the other panelists is that we will be dealing with a different type of “waste”. As you may know, we believe that “there is no such thing as waste, only wasted resources”, and in our case, the wasted resource is rotting food (which we will turn into power for the Ontario grid). In the case of the other panelists, their resource is food itself. Thankfully, organizations like the ones summarized below are able to “rescue” food before it rots, to feed people who need it.
Food rescue (also called food recovery) is therefore the practice of safely retrieving edible food that would otherwise go to waste, and distributing it to those in need. (The recovered food is edible, but cannot be sold.)
Food Rescue organizations and food-waste recycling organizations (like ZooShare) both play an important role in reducing waste in landfills and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Take a look at the Food Recovery Hierarchy (developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) to see where each organization fits: Food Rescue (“feed hungry people”) comes first, followed eventually by biogas production (an “industrial use” to generate energy):
One of the conclusions from the panel is that food recovery organizations have to collaborate to create awareness of and reduce food waste. On that note, read on to learn more about the local Food Rescue organizations that are making a difference right here in Toronto:
Second Harvest is the largest food rescue program in Canada. Since 1985, Second Harvest has picked up surplus, donated food from manufacturers, restaurants and caterers, and has delivered it to community agencies in Toronto who feed those in need. They have rescued 100 million pounds of food from being thrown out, preventing over 50 million pounds of greenhouse gas equivalents from entering our atmosphere.1
Not Far from the Tree is Toronto’s very own fruit tree project, inspiring Torontonians to harvest, share, celebrate, and steward the bounty from our urban forest. When a homeowner can’t keep up with the abundant harvest produced by their tree, a team of volunteers is mobilized to pick their tree. The harvest is split three ways: 1/3 is offered to the homeowner, 1/3 is shared among the volunteers, and 1/3 is delivered by bicycle to local food banks, shelters, and community kitchens. It’s a win-win-win solution!
FoodShare is not a food rescue organization by definition…But their education programs may help save food in the future! FoodShare is a non-profit organization that works with communities and schools to deliver healthy food and hands-on education to teach students food skills, inspire healthy eating, and help people learn where food comes from. (Isn’t it true that if you grow your own food, you are less likely to waste it?)
PS If you really wanted to get into Food Rescue to feed yourself, you could become a “freegan” (aka a “dumpster diver”). The producers of the Just Eat It documentary (which you can watch for free here) were able to eat like kings by doing the same thing…And didn’t pay a cent for groceries in 6 months!
Would you like your kids or grand-kids to learn about ZooShare in the classroom? Now’s your chance!
We have co-created a workshop with TREC Education that teaches students about the science of biogas and the value of organic waste…It’s called “Digest This!”. We would love if you could spread the word and tell the teachers in your life about it. Scroll down for details.
Click here to see or print the “Digest This!” brochure.
Above: TREC Education’s Program Coordinator Abasi Sanders teaches children in Grade 2 about biogas.
In the workshop, students use common household materials to create “a stomach” to learn how our bodies are like biogas digesters. They learn how organic waste is a form of renewable energy, and how biogas technology can reduce our impact on the environment.
Above: This experiment, using household ingredients, teaches children about the breakdown of waste and the concept of collecting greenhouse gases.
The workshop was developed for the Grade 7 curriculum, but can be adapted for all grades.
“We received an email from the spouse of a ZooShare member whose child was in Grade 2,” says Kelly Park, Events and Communications Manager for TREC Education. “She was excited to teach her child about ZooShare, so we adapted the workshop for a younger audience,” she says, “And they’re smarter than you think!”
One of the great things about TREC Education is that their workshops are affordable for teachers — as a charity, TREC Education receives grants, sponsorships and donations to help offer workshops at affordable rates. The first “Digest This!” workshop is only $175 and additional workshops are $135. If you’re feeling generous, you can even sponsor a workshop.