Toronto Zoo: new green energy leader?

Let’s face it, the Toronto Zoo is full of poop.

Now the sweet smell of progress fills the zoo as it looks to turn the poop into power.

“We looked at what is a liability and thought about using it to create green electricity,” said Ward 38 councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, a zoo board member.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker describes why the zoo is developing a new biogas plant and how it works.


The Toronto Zoo is expecting to have a privately biogas plant up by summer 2011.

City council approved the final proposal this month, paving the path forward to turning the Toronto Zoo into a green leader, De Baeremaeker said.

The plant is expected to make the zoo carbon neutral in two years, plus produce enough electricity for 2,500 homes in Toronto. It will use the feces of 5,000 animals and organic waste from restaurants and grocery stores, like Metro, to produce the energy.

“All the old banana peels and apples that don’t sell, and right now go to landfill sites, will go into the plant,” said.

The zoo is looking to private investors to pay the $20-million bill for the project. De Baeremaeker says many companies already eager for the development. He expects more to follow suit, as the plant’s electricity will be sold to the grid and make profit for its investors within five years.

“This is a winning project,” he said. “The zoo wins, the private sector company wins, the tax payer wins, and the environment wins.”

But not everyone agrees.

“It’s a great project but big deal,” said Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck Canada, an animal rights group in Toronto. “The zoo is in the animal business and they are supposed to be engaged in wildlife conservation. I don’t see any evidence of that happening,”

Laidlaw criticizes the zoo for its recent animal deaths: a matriarch elephant and a rare Siberian tiger.  He says the zoo cares about popularity more than animal welfare and conservation.

De Baeremaeker counters this, saying he believes the zoo is becoming a green pioneer.

“The Toronto zoo is changing,” De Baeremaeker said. “We’re trying to change the mandate of zoos to be more compatible with species survival and to become places of education and advocacy.”

With 1.3 million visitors annually, zoo officials say the biogas project will play a major role in informing the public about renewable energies and will spark similar projects throughout the city.

“I’m confident that we can power the entire city of Toronto through green energy,” De Baeremaeker said. “This is just one step towards that future.”