With leaders from around the world as her audience, a young Japanese woman from Kamikatsu, Tokushima Prefecture, spoke about her small town's "zero waste" initiatives, urging the globally influential audience to act to change society.

"Our population is only 1,500, and more than half is 65 years and older. But what is unique about our town is that we are the first municipality or government that declared an ambitious goal to become zero waste by 2020," Akira Sakano, chair of the board at Zero Waste Academy in Japan, a nonprofit organization working to reduce waste in society, told the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, late last month.

"It is the policy and initiative to make no waste out of our community," Sakano said, adding that her town enrolled every resident and asked all of them to bring their waste to a collection center to separate into 45 categories for recycling.