Mason Vander Ploeg doesn’t know if his push to get White Spot to eliminate straws was a deciding factor in the move that took effect this past April.
But he’s optimistic his enthusiam had at least some impact.
“I think I influenced them a little bit,” the charismatic 10-year-old said Friday, referring to a message he delivered at the Morgan Crossing restaurant in February.
“Maybe I just pushed the ball.”
Mason, in Grade 4 at White Rock Christian Academy, has been keen on the environment – and particularly ocean animals – since he was a toddler. His mom, Shanna, remembers him making videos about nature and saving animals from the time he was four.
But it was discovering sharks that pushed his passion to a new level.
“I just love sharks,” he said during a lunch-hour interview, his eyes lighting up. “They can almost do anything.”
“I was all about the ocean and I really liked dolphins, and I still do,” he added. “Then my mom showed me (underwater photographer) Rob Stewart.”
Stewart, a Canadian, is best-known for his documentaries on sharks, Sharkwater and Revolution. He died early last year in a scuba-diving accident in Florida, and Mason said he hopes to carry on Stewart’s work in some fashion in the future.
But first, he’s determined to do what he can to ensure sharks will still exist by that time.
“If I want to scuba dive… I better start protecting them so them so they can last,” he said.
Part of that effort involved becoming a junior shark ambassador – he’s one of 13 kids highlighted on the organization’s website, www.sharks4kids.com – and committing to carry out three to four projects annually to help educate people about sharks and/or environmental risks to the ocean.
He made his first presentation to his Grade 3 classmates, and in September, encouraged his Grade 4 peers to ‘Stop Sucking’ – a reference to the use of plastic straws.
This year, he’s taken to social media to further his messages, creating Instagram and Facebook accounts – search ‘Mason’s Ocean’ on Facebook and masons_ocean on Instragram. In addition to sharing information through the sites, Mason uses them to give ‘shout-outs’ to others who are taking positive steps for the environment.
WRCA teacher Paul Lukacin said Mason’s online efforts grew a notable following in its first week. He currently has 67 followers on Instagram and more than 100 on Facebook.
Lukacin described Mason as “charismatic and infectious.” He’s also the reason his class committed to a zero-waste lunch on May 31.
“We all bought in,” Lukacin said.
Mason said he started bringing zero-waste lunches after noticing how many paper plates and other single-use products were in his classroom’s garbage bins – “it’s almost halfway full every day,” he said – noting such products are bogging down the oceans and hindering ocean life.
“Seventy per cent of marine birds are found with plastic inside them,” he cited as one example of the impact.
With sea turtles, the figure is 20 per cent, he said.
Shanna Vander Ploeg said her son’s passion has inspired her and the rest of their family to do better as well. She now carries reusable straws with her, bought mesh bags for produce purchases and even brought reusable mugs and water bottles on a recent school trip to Tennessee.
“He is so passionate,” she said. “I really feel that God has put this in him. He’s actually helped us to be more bold and speak out.
“We’ve learned a lot from Mason.”
White Spot marketing department head Cathy Tostenson told PAN Tuesday that the company received many letters and cards, including from elementary students, in the lead-up to the decision to offer straws by request only. The decision was made March 19, she said.
Tostenson didn’t know if it was specifically Mason’s push that made the difference, but said the influx of requests for the change coupled with research convinced officials “this is the right thing to do.”
Mason said his push for White Spot to cut out straws – which also included a letter-writing campaign and Facebook petition – won’t be his last.
“I think I’m going to try to get McDonald’s,” he said.
“They just announced recently they don’t think the problem’s urgent enough. I’m just going to show them it is urgent.”