For the past eight years small plastic pellets, known as nurdles, have been washing up on the shore of Lake Superior in front of Chuck Hutterli's home, just east of Nipigon, Ont. 

The white pellets are meant for use in the production of plastic products. They measure about 5 mm in diameter — about the size of a lentil — and they stand out in the sand.

"They look like snow," he said, and they're polluting a beach that used to be "pristine."

Hutterli said he believes the pellets got into the water after a train derailment in the region eight years ago. The rail company did cleanups, he said, but the problem persists. 

In recent years Hutterli has taken to cleaning up the sand in front of his home on his own, using a shovel that he modified for the purpose.

He can spend entire days sifting through the sand, he said, filling garbage bags with the plastic debris.

Chuck Hutterli

Chuck Hutterli surveys the beach in front of his home east of Nipigon, Ont. (Kirsti Salmi and Jim Bailey)

Huttlerli said he's worried about the impact of the plastic particles on wildlife. 

"A few years back early around the spring time I noticed Canadian Geese had come up on the beach," he said.

"They thought [the pellets] were seeds. They were eating them." 

Hutterli is part of a group organizing a meeting at the Lake Helen Community Hall on May 3 at 7 p.m., to discuss the problem of nurdles in Nipigon Bay, and possible solutions. 


Chuck Hutterli says the plastic pellets often wash up in front of his home on the north shore of Lake Superior after a storm. They are 'pancake shaped' and 5 mm in diameter. (Kirsti Salmi and Jim Bailey)

Nurdles cat

A cat picks its way through a sandy beach littered with plastic 'nurdles' on the shore of Lake Superior, near Nipigon, Ont. (Kirsti Salmi and Jim Bailey)