David Cowan, a 32-year-old engineer who formerly designed disk drives for IBM, has devised a compact-disc package that is cheaper and less wasteful than the current box within a box system most commercially sold CDs come in. His Inch Packs are plastic cases that open like drawers and stack together when closed, forming their own rack system. Cowan invested three years and his life savings in the project; Dow Plastics helped, picking up the costs for some consumer testing. Inch Inc. recently signed a contract with Sony, which accounts for about one-fourth of the worldwide 400-million-unit CD market. Cowan hopes that the rest of the industry, now considering several environmentally friendly packaging options, will follow suit.

-- Alessandra Bianchi