Today is Earth Day

'I like James Island to be clean,' said Fannie Quinn, 81, who was picking up trash from a ditch along Seaside Road on Tuesday. She was joining others who volunteered for Clean Cities Sweep's Keep Charleston Beautiful campaign.

Stiles Point Elementary students cleaning up their campus after school couldn't decide if the prize for the most unusual trash should go to the plastic bag full of cooked onions or the unopened package of cottage cheese.

The students were among hundreds of volunteers who collected trash around schools and along James Island roadways Tuesday, in advance of Earth Day today, as part of the Clean Cities Sweep.

For many, Earth Day is an occasion for giving a small gift to the planet, perhaps by picking up litter or planting a tree.

"It's kind of a happy day," said Stiles Point fourth-grader Nicholas Hodges.

For others, this 39th observance of Earth Day will be a time to reflect on the larger threats facing the planet.

Just five days ago the Environmental Protection Agency declared carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases a major hazard to Americans' health, setting the stage for federal regulation of gases blamed for global warming.

Also this month, Charleston County announced a new goal of recycling 40 percent of the area's household waste, which would be four times the current amount; and Columbia and Aiken opened the first hydrogen refueling stations in the Southeast.

While there's still much debate about the best ways to address climate change, roadside litter is an immediate problem easily addressed by civic-minded volunteers like Edwin and Fannie Quinn, a James Island couple in their 80s who spent three hours picking up other people's trash Tuesday.

"This is good exercise, but it's too bad," said Fannie Quinn as she fished two pairs of old sneakers out of the weeds along Seaside Lane.

"Every day is Earth Day as far as I'm concerned," she said. "We think you ought to clean up where you live every day."

At least temporarily, several roadside areas will be free of empty beer bottles, scratch-off lottery tickets and fast-food containers.

"I'm 82, and there's only so much I can do," said Edwin Quinn. "I think it behooves us all to help with this kind of thing."

Over at Stiles Point Elementary, the group of nearly 20 students in the Kaleidoscope after-school program had different reactions to the idea of picking up trash around the building.

"Will we get paid for this?" asked one girl.

Once outside, with their gloves and small bags, the students quickly made a contest of who could find some trash to collect, and who could find the strangest detritus.

"It's going to really help our school, because there's been a lot of trash because of the construction," said fourth-grader Zachariah Hunter, referring to the new school that's being built behind the current one.

Taylor Ranpersad, a third-grader, said she usually does something with her family to celebrate Earth Day, and expects she'll be helping in the vegetable garden today or picking up trash around her property.

Along with her fellow students, Ranpersad learned Tuesday that one of the words of the day at Stiles Point was "steward," as in stewards of the Earth.

EARTH DAY EVENTS

TODAY: Several groups will host an Earth Day Social at Salty Mike's bar, 17 Lockwood Drive, Charleston, at 6 p.m. Also, Charleston Young Professionals is hosting a green tour and expo at the Navy Yard at Noisette. For information visit charleston-yp.com.

SATURDAY: A naturalist will lead a trip through several Lowcountry habitats from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The trip departs from the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center, and reservations are required. Call 928-3316 or nature-adventuresoutfitters.com.