An American who arrives in Germany and is going through the top one hundred things of importance....eventually comes to prioritize the act of garbage as one of the top ten things that is difficult to grasp. I'm trying to say it in a nice way....if some of you Germans take offensive here.
Years ago....Germans got all technical about recycling and handling garbage. Recycling....is MANDATORY, and you will play the game correctly. In almost every community, you get a little booklet toward the end of December or very early January....which lays out garbage pick-up for the whole next year, and it'll lay out typically twelve pages of general rules.
Bio-garbage is mandatory, unless you have a bin in the backyard where you compost everything. Note, you can't usually put any citrus items in the bio....but you can put leaves, grass trimmings, vegetables left over from the refrigerator, etc. You can dump coffee grounds into it, but not T-bone steak bones. Typically, they come for your bio-can every three to four weeks....which means that your bio-can is pretty stinky and you usually can't stand to open the top cover.
The paper can (another totally separate device) is usually big enough to handle all the paper that a German family might accumulate in an average three to four week period. For an American family....it probably does barely cover what they toss into the can. Don't ask me why.....Americans seem to pick up more paper items than the normal German. Everything....even the box that the new TV came in....must go to the paper can. This means you have to smash everything flat and make it all fit.
The plastic garbage? From state to state, it's a bit different. Some states have a full-up can out front of the house, that you pay for as part of your garbage fees....and you dump all plastic into it. Course, if there's some messy stuff on it....you are supposed to wash the item....before placing it into the can. Some states mandate yellow plastic bags...which you dump your daily plastic collection into....there in the kitchen. Some delivered item has paper and plastic? Well....you should remove the plastic, for the plastic can....and put the paper in the paper can.
An old bookcase or old shovel? Well....there's supposed to be a twice a year collection in each community. You drag out old bulky stuff....putting it by the road or street, and the truck comes up. You would notice the date of this in that little booklet that comes in late December. Some states have dumped the twice-a-year schedule, and just say you can call to set up a reservation, with the truck coming by just for you.
Glass? Beer bottles are simple....they go back to the store to get your deposit back. Wine bottles are different...you usually tote those to the village site where a brown steel container sits. There will be some identification that only green bottles go in this side of the container, and brown bottles in this other side, and see-through bottles in another side.
Regular garbage? Well....yeah, there is a remaining can out front for it. But it's a pretty small can if this is for just a two-person apartment. So you end up being fairly picky about what goes to the regular garbage can.
Batteries? They can't go to any can.....you end up toting those to some special location in your community to dump in a big container. It might be at the local grocery, or somewhere on the outskirts of your village....but batteries are kinda special.
TVs or monitors? You got to run down to the local county dump, where they have a big dumpster and toss it into that. You will discover while visiting this county dump....various containers. Some for refrigerators, washers and dryers. Some for old furniture, etc.
Soda bottles? Well.....the Germans eventually got around to mandating that they have to be recycled, but they even made this as difficult as possible. Every single soda container....even cans....has a deposit. So you end up at the local grocery where you hand back your items....to get your deposit back. If you notice....buying a soda in a can these days in Germany isn't that simple. Most all sodas come in a plastic bottle of sorts.
Garbage inspectors? Well...yeah, the bigger communities have gotten around to inspectors who walk and check your garbage can on the day they are supposed to pick it up. They can put a letter on top....declining your garbage, which creates a huge problem for you if they fail to pick it up. This typically comes because they find coffee grounds in your regular garbage, fair amounts of paper in the regular garbage can, or batteries in the regular garbage can. The sad thing is that smaller communities are hiring up garbage inspectors now....so you will eventually face them on a weekly basis.
Taking things to the extreme? Well...after a while, you do understand the German mentality, but it's the fine details of this which tend to make you shake your head. Every year, there is a tweak to the system, and something added to some special category. Eventually, I suspect that ink pens won't be allowed in regular garbage, light bulbs will be extra special, and old telephone books will have to be handled at a special bin at the end of your village. There is no end to the science of German garbage.
So my advice is this if you suddenly arrive and find this vast technical situation over garbage....sit down and analyze the stupid booklet you get in December. Draw up a plan to remind of these divisions of garbage. Make sure the kids play by the stupid rules too. And do your best to act "German". Don't worry, you will fail throughout the first, second and third years....but your German neighbors will come to help remind you that you've screwed up. It's all part of the German mentality ...you need to get smart and pay by the rules....end of the story.