The Secret Science of Sewage

Photograph: BBC
Rating 6.8
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 60 mins

Look, we all do it. Even the Queen. And after you’ve flushed and sprayed some Febreze, it all goes the same way down the pipes and into the sewers, even at Buckingham Palace. This documentary tells us what happens next. (It doesn’t, however, divulge whether Her Maj is a folder or a scruncher.)

When watching this we were pretty glad that smell-o-vision hasn’t been invented yet, and we don’t blame you if the idea of spending an hour talking about bathroom habits puts you off watching this programme. But if you can stomach it, this doc from the Beeb is about as fascinating as faeces gets. It takes us behind the toilets and into the sewers, and not just any old sewers, but one of the biggest sewage works in Europe, which is located just outside Birmingham. We wonder if they’ll open it up as a tourist hot spot post-covid? Anyway, the Brummies are busy exploring how to exploit our excrement for ecological gain. It turns out we may soon be charging our phones with the power of poo.

Admittedly it’s a less glamorous environmentalist exploration than the ones we’re used to in David Attenborough’s lovely looking films, but a good one nonetheless. And it has a pair of fine presenters in Dr George McGavin and Dr Zoe Laughlin. But the real heroes of the hour, are the dedicated researchers – or ‘sludge scientists’, as one of them goes by – who have dedicated their careers to Britain’s bowels. Someone get them a pay rise, and maybe a bowl of potpourri.

Like your environmentalism a bit…cleaner? Try Extinction: The Facts

Despite the stinky subject, The Times’s Carol Midgley found this film “fascinating,” particularly the part where it was discovered that phages (viruses, to you and us) can be harvested from stools and used to make an E. Coli killer. She says: “we owe the scientists trawling for those phages a huge debt and a lorry load of hand sanitiser.” In The Telegraph, Anita Singh says “fair play to the BBC for serving up an unpalatable subject as part of its science output,” but reckons the discussion of “spicy top notes,” and close up shots of micro-organisms chomping on human waste were a bit too much for anyone’s evening.

But hey, whatever floats your…boat.

First shown March 2021.

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