If they didn't look so darn appetizing, we wouldn't be calling loose-fill package stuffing "peanuts." The little nuggets do seem delectable, though, and shippers at FourGen Software, in Edmonds, Wash., actually eat them. The species the crew snacks on is called Eco-Foam, a substance manufactured by American Excelsior (817-640-1555) that consists almost entirely of edible cornstarch. Staffers chew it more for political than gustatory effect, demonstrating that the substance is water-soluble and that, unlike its undigest-ible polystyrene counterpart, will decompose harmlessly in a landfill once it rains.

Employees of $6-million FourGen urged management to switch to Eco-Foam last year, even though it costs twice as much as plastic (prices range from 90¢ to $1.60 a cubic foot). More important, notes marketing manager Daren Kloes, Eco-Foam keeps FourGen's environment-conscious work force happy. "Cost is not a consideration for us," Kloes acknowledges. "But if you're manufacturing knickknacks in Taiwan, that could be another matter."

For many, the extra cost may be worth it. Among other positive attributes, Eco-Foam (serendipitously developed by scientists attempting to increase the fortitude of breakfast cereal in milk) doesn't conduct static electricity, and therefore is safer than polystyrene as a cushion for sensitive electronics. For another, a package recipient can guiltlessly flush it down the toilet. -- Robert. A. Mamis