I was apprehensive the first time. I expected a smelly, fly-infested junkyard with tattered homeless people pushing shopping carts. It’s not smelly, and the parked cars reveal a mixed clientele — a BMW, a dented gray station wagon, a shiny black Acura and a new Silverado with oversized tires.

This is the Santa Monica Recycling Center. I come here because I live in Marina del Rey, part of L.A. County, where recycling isn’t mandatory.

It’s an enormous operation, action-packed and noisy. Overflowing blue and green bins of plastic and glass bottles, giant compressed squares of aluminum cans and stacks of boxes, paper and metals fill the grounds.

A clackety loader scoots about like a yellow insect snatching up mixed trash from huge piles and dumps it for hand-sorting onto a monstrous conveyer belt spewing confetti.

Driving in to disgorge its load, a trash collection truck tilts its container high into the air, but the waste is too compacted. The truck lurches back and forth to jolt it free, straining to give birth to the contents, but the “baby” won’t come out. After much jerking and shaking, the trash slides through, creating a pyramid of refuse — plastic bags, food containers, red and blue cups, a shoe, a ball, a pillow.

I stand in line with my recyclables, chatting with other clients, who are friendly and helpful when pushing heavy containers or emptying bags. With plastics dumped into round, wire baskets, and glass bottles into buckets, I wait while they’re weighed. The attendants, in fluorescent orange-striped shirts, smile, calling me by name when printing the receipt.

My aluminum cans are dumped at the bottom of a long conveyor belt and they clang like church bells when dragged to the top for weighing. Their redemption amount is added to my receipt.

Next is the payment station. I receive the surcharge that you pay when purchasing most plastic, glass and aluminum containers. If those items aren’t recycled, they end up in landfills, or worse yet, the ocean, along with all your nickels.

My friends think it’s an unusual activity for a middle-class senior, but in a very small way, I’m protecting our environment.

I’m worrying that I might get carried away with my frequent collecting from beaches and streets, but if you help me, I won’t have to. Next time you drink a bottle of water, don’t toss the container — recycle it. Better yet, get out your old Thermos or canteen, and just stop buying plastics.

Classroom and community group tours of the facility are available. Information, Andrew Basmaji, (310) 458-8916.

The Santa Monica recycling center is at 2411 Delaware Ave. in Santa Monica and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The center is closed on Sundays.

Editor’s note: Bettina Gantsweg is a Los Angeles native, a 22-year resident of Marina del Rey and a longtime Argonaut reader. She is retired from teaching music and adult ESL (English as a second language) for the Los Angeles Unified School District. We are pleased to welcome her as a columnist and hope our readers will enjoy her observations on life in our area, appropriately entitled “Through My Eyes.”