It's a thing here.
We produce five streams of garbage: compost, paper, glass, metal/plastic, and general. This is, I gather, standard for Germany. Learning what goes where is no small thing. (Milk cartons, for instance, are treated cardboard but go with plastic.)
Key to the system: your garbage cans are not your own. They belong to the county. The county of Rhön-Grabfeld gives us three different garbage cans -- brown, blue and grey -- plus an endless supply of translucent yellow plastic bags for the plastic/metal. You can pick the bags up free at the supermarket checkout, or downtown at the Town Hall.
Compost: There's a brown garbage can for compost. We rarely use it, because we have a compost pile (which deserves a post of its own, and will get it.) Leaves and lawn clippings and that's about it.
If you can't fit all your compost in here, and you don't want a compost pile, the town has a public compost site -- it's called "The Green Place" or some such. People come there to drop off their grass clippings and whatnot; other people come there to collect it for mulch and such.
Paper: Blue can, paper and cardboard. We use this a lot. It's amazing how much of this stuff one family generates. Boxes and packaging and scrap paper: we fill this to the brim every time.
Again, if you can't fit it all in the can, you can bring it to the town's recycling bin -- a bunch of big metal boxes by the firehouse -- and dump it in there.
Glass: All glass soda bottles and suchlike come with deposits, so you bring these back to the supermarket. But wine bottles, jam jars, broken glasses and such -- those must go to the recycling bin. We don't have a lot of these, so it's maybe one trip every couple of months.
Plastic/metal: Goes in the yellow plastic bags. You pile these up next to the various cans when you put out the garbage. There are a lot of different sorts of plastic, plus metal, and I gather they're dumped onto a conveyor belt and some hopefully well-paid people have the job of sorting them into different bins.
General: The gray can -- everything that doesn't go in the other streams.
The gray can is the center of the whole system, and here's why. The other streams are unlimited: you can produce as much glass, paper or plastic waste as you like. If you overfill the cans you can go to the public spots. But there is no public spot for general waste. You get the one gray can, and that's it.
Remember how the cans belong to the county? Well, you get the other cans for free... after all, the county is making money off that stuff. But the gray can, not. It's a monthly fee, and that's your garbage collection fee. You can get a bigger can -- big as you like; they have super size ones -- but then you pay more. There's a discount for families. We have four kids, so we have a medium-sized can.
All the cans go out to the curb every second Tuesday night. Four different garbage trucks then come by -- one each for paper, plastic, compost and general. Because the cans are standardized, the trucks can be more efficient; each one has an arm that comes down, grabs the can by the handle, lifts it up over the back of the truck, flips it open, and shakes it. This is pretty cool to see. Wednesday mornings, if we see the truck coming, we yell so that the boys can come to the window and watch it.
(Note that this only works if you have the cans facing properly. If you put them out sideways or backwards, the garbage truck driver must step down and turn them around. He will give you a dirty look! After that you'll do it right.
(Note also that the cans can't be out before 6 at night, and the empty cans must be off the curb by 10 am. If you don't bring them in, the old man who lives up the street will come walking down the sidewalk, stop, stare, and very pointedly lift one of them off the curb and shove it into your driveway. Avoid this.)
Now, this sounds rather complicated, and it is. And it also sounds like a lot of trouble. And it is that too. But at the same time, not -- it doesn't take much extra time, and once you're used to it it's not much extra effort either. Though the getting used to can take a while.
Here's the payoff: we produce an astonishingly small amount of garbage. Once the paper, metal, plastic, and organic compost have all been sorted out, two weeks of garbage from a family of six fits in one medium-sized trash can. This is about one quarter, maybe one fifth of what an American family would produce. Part of the difference is better German packaging -- the garbage stream is a bit smaller to begin with -- but mostly it's the sorting.
And that's probably more than you wanted to know about our garbage.