With less than 10 years to go before the damage we are doing to our planet is irreversible, there’s no time to dilly dally with design that does harm, so calling his social enterprise Critical was Rui Peng’s way of giving us a wake-up call. His mission to change the course of history began in 2017 with a project for Fonterra.

From a workshop in Auckland’s Mt Roskill, using heat and pressure, the architecture graduate and his team transformed plastic waste bottles into a material that looks like marble. “From this, we made a series of saleable products so that the company had the opportunity to be stewards of plastic that would be otherwise head to landfill,” he says.

Rui’s focus is sustainability – not just of the Earth, but the people on it. He came to New Zealand in the 1990s as a five-year-old, and his Chinese ancestry underpins his ethos. “My whakapapa is Manchurian on my mother’s side and Han on my father’s. During the Revolution, the Manchurians were suppressed by the communists [the Hans] and not allowed to tell their story.”

Tough times followed for his parents in New Zealand and living on the edge of poverty gave Rui an empathetic outlook. “My calling is to create opportunities for people, and products that are better for the land.”

These days plastic comes in from many sources, including commercial recyclers, and the product line-up includes panelling for fit-outs in the hospitality industry. At Kokako café in Commercial Bay, the ‘marble’ counter-front is made from 8,000 milk and cream bottles, and bottle caps. Other popular items are the 145 stools and bar stools, so called because 145 pieces of plastic waste goes into each seat top, and the marbleised pereti (cheeseboards).

In April this year, Critical, with an eye to upscaling, relocated to Papatoetoe. Not long after, the cyclone swept away their roof. Rui’s resolve was not shaken. “It set us back, but we’re making progress. Our kaupapa is to care for our planet and our people by making beautiful products. Time is running out – it’s critical for us to do the right thing.” criticaldesign.nz CLAIRE McCALL