Apparently, Germans lead the world in recycling and they have a very complex system for dealing with waste. Several years ago, a law was passed requiring companies to take back the packaging in which they sell their products (aha-how would you like that, toy makers?). Needless to say, companies have become innovative in minimizing the packaging. So all packaging that has the "Green Dot" symbol goes into a special yellow garbage bag. This includes, milk cartons, yogurt containers, aluminum cans, plastic packaging wrap, etc. The Gelbe Saecke are picked up every two weeks.
Then there is paper recycling, which definitely falls into the beginner category. If it's paper and it's clean (no greasy pizza boxes) it goes into the big green bin and gets collected once a month.
Glass recycling falls into two categories: refundable and non-refundable. Luckily, having lived in Michigan, we got a primer on this. Beer bottles, water bottles, soda bottles, juice bottles all have a deposit that is charged when you buy them. In each supermarket there is a machine that allows you to return the bottles and get your deposit back. Other glass items like pickle jars, wine bottles and jelly jars must be separated into clear or colored glass. Then you take them to your neighborhood glass recycling bins (but not during Quiet Hours)!
Food scraps, coffee filters, tea bags and garden waste either go into your own compost bin (our choice) or go into an Organic Waste bin that is picked up every month.
Hazardous waste like fluorescent light bulbs, paint cans and electronic items have special pick-up times and locations. You must deliver those items to the collection site when the time comes. Used batteries go into a special container (that I still have not been able to locate) somewhere in a local grocery store. For some reason we seem to be going through a lot of batteries so I have a jar half filled- better do some more reconnaissance.
Finally, you have what is left- Q-tips, used tissues and other "icky" stuff. This goes into a gray bin that is about the size of one large kitchen trash bag, which gets picked up once a month. By the time everything is sorted out we usually don't fill this bin each month. There's no choice but to follow the recycling system, though. You just couldn't fit everything into the "trash" bin.
Oh, and one other thing that reduces waste is at the grocery store. You have to buy grocery bags if you need them. Of course, no one wants to pay for them so everyone carries a basket or cloth bags with them. It makes so much sense!
This might seem a little extreme but it is actually not that bad once you get used to it. Our kitchen has a nice pull-out recycling center with color-coded bins to help. I like to know that I'm doing my part to be a good German resident and to reduce waste on our planet.
ADDENDUM (28 January 2009): Norway has a very similar system and the more I read, the more it looks like this is pretty widespread in Europe. I guess there's so many people on the continent that they have to be smart about their waste. There is no "middle of nowhere" to dump tons and tons of trash!