Garbage in, Garbage out

Michael Reynolds
Reynolds – recognised at last

It’s one of those clever management sayings that if you feed rubbish into the system, then you inevitably get rubbish out at the other end.

But its not true.

The new documentary Garbage Warrior is about a man who has proved its not true. All Michael Reynolds does is build houses out of what other people would call garbage. Its what he has done for the past 35 years. Old tyres are very important, and so are tin cans. And bottles. The documentary reports his fight to win back his architects license after it was removed a decade ago because he had these weird ideas about building eco homes.

(I mean, really!) Reynolds called them Earthships, to draw attention to the fact that they are all totally off-grid and self-sufficient – complete systems that maintain a steady temperature because of their dense walls — and even support life, in the form of fruit and vegetables grown from compost and waste water.

In Taos New Mexico, where Reynolds staked his entire savings on a 630 acre development, the film shows you Earthships of every shape and size, some massive ones ” more like Earth-yachts, and others more modest. Reynolds calls himself a “biotect” and boasts that his buildings use little or no external power ” but they still cost $175 a square foot to build.

With his mane of gray hair and devil-may-care sincerity, Mike Reynolds looks like a retired rock star who has fallen on hard times. He is a curious fellow ” but then you would have to be pretty strange to spend 30 years of your professional life being alternately ignored and called a crazy guy. It”s a fate many have suffered in the environmental movement, and now that green is chic, they are being edged aside by smartly dressed consultants who were selling internet advice a decade ago. This film reminds us who our real freinds are, and what really matters.

I first met Reynolds in Spain where I was a volunteer builder on an Earthship in 2001. About 15 of us turned up near Valencia from all over Europe. Reynolds was there with a team of “sons” who I learned from the film are not his sons at all, but men he found struggling with their lives, whom he rescued and put to work. I learned first hand how to make an Earthship ” the other reason for the name is that the walls and foundations are made from used tyres rammed full of earth. It was incredibly hard work, and we all got fit over the course of the week. The couple for whom we were building the Earthship only had to cover the expenses for Mike and his entourage plus food, and beer. This guy has paid his dues.


Documentary Director Oliver Hodge spent three years off and on, filming with Reynolds, and appears to have fallen under his spell. We see Reynolds cycling and running, hammering earth, and travelling to exotic disaster zones to help out with some Earthships — all the while expounding his philosophy at great length. We do not see Reynolds answer any difficult questions, nor do we meet his customers.

The film is shot and edited immaculately, and by the end you cannot but believe in the power of the Earthship to take on the volume housebuilders with all their eco-unfriendly extras. The film is a bit short on story-telling, and long on sound-bites of Mike Reynolds expounding his philosophy, with a supporting cast of his wife and helpers. Nevertheless it documents the career of one of the heroes of the Green Revolution, and it deserves a wide audience. In the US – buy Garbage Warrior here, now

In the UK – go see it at the ICA Cinema, London, May 23-June 12 -visit the Garbage Warrior web site.

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