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The Secret Science of Pee

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Simone Byrne Simone Byrne | 16:50 UK time, Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Presenter Sally Magnusson tells us how she came up with the idea to write a book and make a programme about pee.

Sally Magnusson

Sally Magnusson

Go on, I know what you're thinking. How on earth does a nice, upstanding BBC presenter like me come to be making a programme about pee? Do I really want to put people off their food?

Not so long ago I would have thought the same - until I stumbled on the story of how Harris Tweed used to be made from the contents of the "pee-tub" kept outside every croft. Then I learned that urine was in fact the most versatile chemical agent known to man for thousands of years, used to make dyes, scour cloth, pickle metal, produce gunpowder, make alum, weather bronzes, heal wounds and cure chilblains - among many other uses. It was bought and sold, collected and solicited, even at one point taxed by the Roman emperor Vespasian.

As a journalist I was hooked. This was absorbing social history of a kind that had simply never made it into our history books. I collected it all into a book called Life of Pee, which came out last year. But I discovered something else. Because of its natural scientific properties, pee is becoming king again. Right now it's at the cutting edge of the green revolution.

By recycling it we can save precious fossil fuels, make plastics and fertiliser, produce electricity, harvest hormones, make mud-bricks for refugee housing and meals in space, and stop wasting the vast amounts of money and energy we spend flushing it away and treating it before it hits our rivers.

That's the story I tell in The Secret Science of Pee. It will certainly change the way you think about the most underrated product on earth. It could even change your life.

Listen to The Secret Science of Pee, Wednesday 1405 on BBC Radio Scotland.


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