CHICAGO (CBS) — Some South Side college students learned a valuable environmental lesson outside of the classroom Saturday.

More than 100 students and faculty from the Illinois Institute of Technology spent part of the day cleaning up the 31st Street Beach.

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The group found cigarette butts, plastic straws, water bottles, food wrappers, and other debris littering the beach.

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All of the trash that is picked up will be weighed and analyzed.

“What we’re able to do here is pick up large pieces of plastic, but in fact, they break down into small microplastic pieces that find their way all over the environment; suspended in the water column, they wash up in the sand on the beach – and we honestly don’t know a lot of about what happens to them yet and where they go,” said IIT Environmental Engineering Professor Paul Anderson.

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Research will also be conducted at IIT to determine how those tiny microplastics work their way into the food chain and become toxic to aquatic organisms and people.