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Turning Poo into Power: Canada's 1st Zoo-Biogas Plant at Toronto Zoo

Hi everyone! It’s Sasha from Think-team. I hope everyone is staying safe as the number of COVID cases in Indonesia is rising.


A few days ago, I stumbled upon this news article.



I thought to myself, “wow, has anyone tried this before?”. You can turn waste from the zoo into fertilizer and power. I'm not so sure if other gift-makers have ever written a blog about biodigesters at zoos before, but I think it's a nice topic to bring up again.


The concept itself (zoo biodigesters) have been established around 2010 but the implementation is minimum and after a bit of searching for literature about this topic myself, the result was quite scarce. Biodigester is quite common in farms but only a few zoos around the world begin to utilize it. Different characteristics and viable materials in different zoos can create challenges in installing the biogas digesters. That’s why it took quite some time (well, years) for creating biogas plant, particularly at this Toronto Zoo.


The role of zoos in biodiversity conservation, research, and education has been carried out throughout the years. Some zoos depend on public donations, entrance fees, and joint research, thus they have a very limited way of financial support. Some zoos got overwhelmed by the amount of waste they produce on daily basis and don’t have proper waste management. The dung usually gets separated from herbivores and carnivores as they have different consistency and characteristic, then some dungs can be processed into fertilizers but most of the time they don’t undergo any follow-up treatment and discarded straight to the final dumpster.


Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Germany was the first zoo that operated a biogas plant to anaerobically decompose herbivore manure for several years. This biogas plant could produce methane to power 5% of the zoo’s electricity requirement and also powered the heating for the gorilla enclosure from the decomposition process. The leftovers were used as fertilizers to sustain the food yield for the animals. Alas, they announced the closure of the biogas plant in January 2016 because of its high modernization cost and became no longer economically viable. The novelty of this approach is still very much respected and provides a cornerstone to future similar projects.


After some setbacks and difficulties in investments, Zooshare, a community co-operative and non-profit enterprise based in Toronto, Canada, had their hopes came to life to carry on the mission and installed one of the first zoo-biogas digesters in North America. They also utilized supermarkets’ waste as the addition to the source materials. The same ideas also inspired Detroit Zoo to installed its own biodigester in 2017. The growing trend of “keeping waste from going to waste” made other zoos all across America correspond to Detroit Zoo because they want to start something very much alike. I do hope this approach can be replicated and implemented in other zoos in the future.


That’s all for now, I’ll see you again in the next blog!


-S-


Detroit Zoo


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