So how do you teach a child that litter not only looks bad on our roadsides and beaches but that it also affects nature and the environment around them?

One way is to get involved in the various Clean City Sweeps and Beach Sweeps that happen here every year.

More than 17,000 volunteers were involved with the Clean City Sweeps in Charleston and North Charleston last week, and they had some projects that helped clean road-ways, and plant flowers in some smaller neighborhoods.

But what touched me was the photos of little ones learning early that they could make a difference at their school.

At Montessori Day School, students weeded their school garden. What a great way to play in the dirt and do a good deed at the same time.

At Fort Dorchester Elementary School, the Green Gators collected items for recycling.

They probably know more about recycling at their age than many adults, and it's a great habit to practice at an early age.

And over at North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary School, the students picked up litter on the school grounds. That effort goes back to the original Keep America Beautiful campaign that began in 1956.

For those of us of a cer- tain age, the commercial showing an Indian crying about how pollution and litter were affecting America was the first wake-up call that we needed to take better care of our environment.

It is considered one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history.

But why teach children about litter?

There's some interesting statistics from No More Trash! about how long it takes litter to degrade.

For instance, a plastic foam container takes 1 million years to degrade; an aluminum can, 200-500 years; a disposable diaper, 550 years.

That means the beer cup that was thrown out with the soft drink can and the baby's diaper will be around for a very long time if someone doesn't pick them up. Even the banana peel that seems so biodegradable will be around 3-4 weeks, and think about the rotten smell.

While the official Clean City Sweep is over for this year, and I'm waiting to hear how much trash they collected, the beach sweeps are just beginning.

Every other Tuesday on Folly Beach, the Charle- ston Chapter of the Surf-rider Foundation holds cleanups 6:30-8 p.m. to pick up the litter left by beachgoers.

They will be out May 15 at the 2nd St. East Beach Access (2nd St. East and East Arctic Ave.).

You'd be amazed at the amount of litter people can throw out of their boats or leave on the shore.

Author Mary Alice Monroe has written numerous books about the wildlife in our area, and she's been an avid protector of sea turtle nests. She writes that one of the dangers to mature sea turtles can be those plastic connectors for a six-pack. Turtles can get caught in them or swallow the plastic after mistaking it for food.

If you use the beach, the cleanups are a great way to give back, especially while the weather is relatively cool at night. You can hang out at the beach in the afternoon, and then help with the cleanup.

If everyone did his part, our roads and beaches wouldn't need all this extra effort.

Until that happens, teaching the young ones respect for the environment is the best prevention we have.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or sharvin@postandcourier.com.