The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
January 31, 2008

A Bittersweet Symphony called D2W

Back in September, I wrote about the plastic AT&T Yellow Pages bag that showed up on my doorstep unsolicited. Here’s the update. I called the Yellow Pages, found out to whom I should write, and sent this letter (PDF file).

Not long afterwards, I actually received a telephone call from Jim Troup, the head of environmental issues for AT&T Yellow Pages. We had a long conversation about plastic bags, Yellow Pages recycling, and different types of degradable bags the company has tried. He told me he is researching alternatives to the plastic bags, and that they actually did an experiment up in Redding, California, with a bag made of a plastic called D2W. He called this plastic “chemo-degradable” rather than “bio-degradable” and said that AT&T was still looking for something fully biodegradable and would let me know when they’d made a decision.

Weeks went by, and I forgot about D2W plastic, until I received a comment and email from blogger Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd asking about this very product. So I figured I’d better look into it. D2W is a plastic made by a British company called Symphony Environmental Limited. It breaks down due to additives in the plastic that are added during the “extrusion stage of manufacture, when polymer granules are heated and melted to form packaging films.” The web site calls these additives “metal salts.” The metal salts cause the plastic polymers to break down to such a degree that eventually, micro-organisms can take over and finish the job biologically. The end product is “some H2O, some CO2, and a small amount of biomass.” Here is a more detailed description of the degradation process.

Sounds great, right? Not so fast, pardner. Let’s look at all the pieces of this description logically in light of what we know about all the problems of plastic.

First, what exactly are the “metal salts” that are added to the plastic, and can they leach out of the plastic while it’s degrading? I contacted Symphony to find out the answer to this question and received this Word Document, Technical Paper “Heavy metals” and essential trace elements (Word Doc), which states that “the commonly used transition metal compounds in commercial oxo-biodegradable plastics are manganese, iron, cobalt and nickel.” The paper goes on to explain why we should not be concerned about “heavy metals” being added to the plastic. Not being a chemist myself, I sent the paper to Solvig, a chemistry teacher I know, who wrote me the following:

The metal compounds are used to catalyze the breakdown of the plastic in the presence of light, heat and oxygen. Catalyst tends to be active in trace (extremely low) concentrations, but I don’t know if that is so in this particular product. If on the other hand there is a high concentration of nickel in the product, we will end up with high concentrations of nickel in the compost.

How would the nickel be taken up from the soil? The amount of nickel taken up by plants has little to do with its concentration in the soil. The accumulation of nickel in various parts of the plant remains constant whatever the concentration of nickel of the soil. [However,] the uptake of nickel from the soil by other organisms such as bacteria or other critters is not discussed.

They finish by saying: If you added degradable polyethylene film as mulching to the soil it would take 500 years to increase the nickel content of the soil by 1ppm. However, they don’t explain what they mean by that. How much biodegradable plastic are they talking about??? Just one little container, or a composting plant’s worth.

In an ideal world all the biodegradable plastic would be broken down in a composting plant, and the amount of nickel and cobalt released would depend on the amount of plastic in relation to the amount of other food and garden waste it is mixed with.

My feeling is that there is no danger of poisoning people when this stuff is broken down, but I don’t know since I don’t know what the concentration of metal is. Let’s stick with the precautionary principle and avoid single use items whether biodegradable or not.

So that’s question #1: Will the metals present in the plastic prove toxic to us in the long run? At this point, I don’t think we know. So many other additives in plastic, like phthalates and Bisphenol-A were once thought safe and are now being found to leach into our water and food.

Second, the web site description says that the metal salts are added during the “extrusion stage of manufacture, when polymer granules are heated and melted to form packaging films.” Let’s remember that D2W film is still being made from ordinary petroleum-based plastic granules, the same pellets commonly called “nurdles” that are being found in our oceans and taken up into the food chain. These raw plastic pellets do not contain any additive to help them break down. If they blow off a ship into the ocean, which they often do, they will remain there basically forever, attracting pollutants like PCB and DDE and concentrating them even as they enter the bodies of fish and other marine animals.

Any plastic film made from petroleum-based plastic contributes to the pollution of our oceans simply through the transportation of the raw material to the manufacturer. To state my opinion less formally, if we can’t find some way to keep these little buggers from blowing about and washing down storm drains, we oughtn’t be making things out of them.

Third, it takes energy and materials to create any disposable products, including products that biodegrade. Symphony’s answer to the question of reusable bags (PDF) is this:

Long-term re-usable shopping bags are not the answer. They are much thicker and more expensive, and a large number of them would be required for the weekly shopping of an average family. They are not hygienic unless cleaned after each use. Whilst sometimes called “Bags for Life” they have a limited life, depending on the treatment they receive, and become a very durable form of litter when discarded.

Shoppers do not always go to the shop from home, where the re-usable bags would normally be kept, and consumers are unlikely to have a re-usable bag with them when buying on impulse items such as clothing, groceries, CDs, magazines, stationery etc.

However, for those who believe in long-term re-usable bags, they can be made from extended-life oxo-biodegradable plastic and will last for five or more years.

I disagree that long-term use reusable bags are not the answer. And the comment about reusable bags not being hygienic is just plain ridiculous. We are so germ-phobic that we can’t have our produce touch material that’s been previously used? Do we not realize that fruits and vegetables are plants that grow in dirt fertilized by manure?

I believe that reusable bags should be the number one alternative for carrying home purchases and perhaps some type of degradable bag could be a distant second for those who forget to bring their bags to the store and are willing to pay for a disposable one. I think we ought to be charging fees for one-time use bags and containers in the first place, which would help to remind folks to bring their bags with them.

What do you think?

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38 Comments on "A Bittersweet Symphony called D2W"

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2 years 5 months ago

your article was posted in 2008, there have been scientific advances in biodegradable additives, heavy metals are not found in D2W, the additive has been 3rd party lab certified to be safe:
This is my main solution for solving plastic pollution, having elected officials create legislation to force all plastic manufactures to add d2w biodegradable additive to their manufacturing process. What is going on across the US with different city bag bans is absolutely absurd, plus they are really not outright banning bags, they are charging a 5-10 cent fee per bag which the grocery stores are keeping as revenue, currently… Read more »

2 years 5 months ago

Join our Bag Bans are RIDICULOUS, let’s talk solutions group:

2 years 5 months ago

MarketingSense So what are your ideas for plastic pollution solutions then?

2 years 5 months ago
2 years 5 months ago

MarketingSense I have already addressed this ridiculous claim that reusable bags are not hygienic.  Please read this post:

Collins Pt.
5 years 3 months ago

Biodegradable plastic and packaging is a modern necessity for our ever-endangered environment.
Now PLA has been used to line the indoors of Paper Cups in place of the oil based lining additional usually used, create Plastic Cups, Plates, Carrier Bags, Food Packaging and even Nappies.
Eco Pure is our proprietary blend of organic materials that does not modify the base resin to which it is added.

Thanks a lot for your information

5 years 8 months ago

D2W is used extremely wideliy in Mexico by the largest user of film BIMBO CORPORATION. A throurough study is very much needed to determine if the salts/metals can be gobbled up by the microbes as stated by the D2W producer.
Good luck.

5 years 9 months ago

Thanks for this informative post! I’m a retailer and I’ve just started researching d2w since one of my suppliers began packaging all of their products in it. I definitely prefer the precautionary principle, especially in light of our recent experiences with BPA and phthalates, so I’m very reluctant to trust d2w won’t leach. I also have concerns about contamination of the soil, groundwater, and air AND of the release of more CO2.

It sounds like it may make disposables a tiny step better, but sustainably-produced reusables are still a MUCH better option in my opinion.

6 years 23 days ago

Honestly, what a load of rubbish. He asked a school teacher about these “heavy metals”, a term which is considered to be nonsense in scientific circles, its a phrase used by sensationalist media.

I think you dont want a solution to the plastic because you have nothing less to moan about.

This looks to me like a good solution.

Fake Plastic Fish
6 years 4 months ago

Hi Anonymous. I have actually brought up the point about methane gas here:

That said, I do thing that bio-based bags are a better choice when they can be composted properly. And I feel like we need to be pushing ourselves and our communities to be properly composting our food and other green waste instead of sending it to the landfill where it too gives off methane gas.

6 years 4 months ago

I've been researching this matter as an aside to my Environmental Studies course. I'm also a mature student – have a kid and everything – I use bags I've made myself, either from scrap material, or crocheted cotton string bags (which are like the TARDIS – they just seem to grow as I need).
What no one seems to have focussed on yet is that biodegrading plastic releases CO2, or Methane (depending on whether it's decomposing in aerobic or anaerobic conditions) – which is an even more damaging greenhouse gas. Right now it seems to me that if we HAVE… Read more »

6 years 6 months ago

My first awareness of d2w came today, when I received a newspaper wrapped in a bag made with the d2w additive, so I started doing Internet research on it (and this blog came up in that search). Thank you Beth for obtaining the paper listing the metals that they may be using. The Symphony websites don’t list them, and neither do the Material Safety Data Sheets for their products. I also have chemistry training, and indeed I agree with Solvig that I wouldn’t worry at all about manganese or iron, and only slightly about cobalt. I… Read more »

6 years 10 months ago

Have you heard about an Australian innovation – Goody. Check out They have an additive that makes plastic compostable, without the use of heavy metals.

7 years 9 days ago

i think the d2w is great.

you can keep looking and looking for the right answer to our problem but you will never find it. Atleast these people are doing something about it, maybe not yet perfect but just give them time. Most of green people are just following a life style, but what do you really contribute to changes and i mean really changes?? i prefer for NOW a bit nicle in the soil than to find plastic bags everywhere… Face it… we always look at the negative side of things, thats just human nature… if we really want to… Read more »

7 years 1 month ago

Hi, I’m a vendor of oxo-biodegradable plastic disposable products. I am all for using cloth bags for groceries where practical, but I think that choice should be in the hands of consumers, not governments. You can find many relevant facts on my website at . I discuss the many costs of the various alternatives to the environment, which can even include mass starvation in the third world if hydro-biodegradable bags become extremely popular. Our company concentrates more on garbage bags-I don’t think many people want to reuse those! -Tim Dunn

7 years 3 months ago

I am seeing Symphony work on oxo biodegradable additive development onfor packaging sector is excellent-They just made plastic’s non reversible nature in terms of degradability to reversible (bio degradable) –Their worked on un-zipping the macro polymer that is just opposite to polymerizing needs to be truly appreciated
Replacing plastics is not the right approach but looking forward to solving the current issue seems to be –OK –I believe the team working on this sector will able to clear the issue since they have all critic from you and me now

k.pugalendhi –india

7 years 5 months ago

I came across this site and think it is great that the discussion is active and that some bits of ‘conventional widom’ get challenged. I am a bit dismayed lately as I scan the internet that so many “environmentally friendly” people are actually narrow minded and they take a small bit of information as gospel and don’t consider the larger scope. For example, some bloggers or posters simply say “Don’t use plastic bags, use paper.” But here’s a link to a website about the energy required to make paper bags versus plastic.
Apparently they… Read more »

7 years 8 months ago

I agree with many of the comments I’ve seen posted here. (use of cloth bags for shopping, charging a surcharge if one does decide to use the store’s plastic bags) But it is also true that plastics are here to stay. To simply say lets eliminate plastics is not realistic nor constructive. Plastics are a very good material and if used properly are a great benefit to mankind and the world. But there is misuse of plastics as well. Filling our land and oceans with materials that are going to be hanging around our environment… Read more »

Fake Plastic Fish
7 years 8 months ago

Hi Lily. You have not left me a way to contact you directly. If you’ll send me your email address, I can forward your request to Solvig.


7 years 8 months ago

thankyou very much for that article. I’m doing an assignment on oxo-biodegradable plastic bags and so far i’ve been unable to find out exaclty what d2w is. I was wondering if you could give me the email address of the chemist that you asked to look over the information Symphony sent you. It would be really helpful to talk to them about d2w in detail. Thanks. Lily

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
7 years 8 months ago

Anonymous —

> Even “bags for life” have to be
> disposed of sometime, and it is
> better for them to be made from
> oxo-bio plastic than from
> cotton, jute or paper, which
> emits methane in landfill…

I have been using the same heavy cotton canvas bags for literally YEARS now and they are still in perfectly good condition — can’t see how disposal of them will be a big problem.

> If you never spill milk or
> squash a tomato in your shopping
> bag it will stay clean and fresh
> – but most will not.

No,… Read more »

7 years 8 months ago

If everyone were as environmentally responsible as you, there would be no problem, but most are not and never will be.

OK dream on – while more and more non-degradable plastic waste accumulates in the environment.

Even “bags for life” have to be disposed of sometime, and it is better for them to be made from oxo-bio plastic than from cotton, jute or paper, which emits methane in landfill, or from normal or recycled plastic, which lasts for centuries.

If you never spill milk or squash a tomato in your shopping bag it will stay clean and fresh – but most… Read more »

Shannon Hodgins
7 years 9 months ago

I put my canvas/fabric bags by the the door and take them out next trip out. I have nice big blue canvas/fabric bags from Ikea that I bought for like a quarter apiece on sale. You can actually roll them up and even put them in your purse or jacket pocket.

When dirty, I wash them. I haven’t broken one yet and I’ve carried like 40 pounds in each one. I supplement larger shopping trips with a box from the store and/or a few paper bags that I reuse again and again and… Read more »

7 years 9 months ago

I keep my canvas bags in my car boot so they’re always there when I hit the supermarket. I’m looking for a bag that folds down sensibly & doesn’t make me look like my gran for when I go “retail therapy” shopping.
I think Eire decimated their plastic bag usage by hiling up tax on them – some ridiculous stats are bandied about – and the UK (starting with one of the London local authorities) is looking like it may follow suit.

7 years 9 months ago

Clearly, retailers don’t want purchases to require any thought, because then people wouldn’t buy so much crap. You put *any* barrier up, and people spend less.

But, why do we let them win, politically? Why is their interest in our running up debt the winning voice in every debate?

I’m going to call the phone co tonight and see if we can opt out of the phone book in the first place. We only use them for booster seats and door stops anyway.

7 years 9 months ago

Their argument has some extremely obvious defects… the part that goes,
“Shoppers do not always go to the shop from home, where the re-usable bags would normally be kept, and consumers are unlikely to have a re-usable bag with them when buying on impulse items such as clothing, groceries, CDs, magazines, stationery etc.” probably hits on the theme that continues to blow my mind, the theme that arises in all of such discussions and that is the theme of personal responsibility – the reference Molly from NH made in her comment- and the lack of it in our society…… Read more »

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
7 years 9 months ago

Thank you thank you thank you for doing all that wonderful research that I am just too lazy to do… I suspected that the D2W website was hiding something and you have proved me right. I will stick to my unhygenic reusable canvas bags! :)

Village Green
7 years 9 months ago

Beth, I really appreciate all the research you do on all the plastics issues.

In my view, we don’t need plastic bags for shopping — period. What we do need is a complete revamping of how items are packaged for sale and shipping. Nothing should be packaged using materials that are non-recyclable.

7 years 9 months ago

I love my TJ’s reusable plastic bag because it is self supporting, unlike the canvas bags that collapse if you aren’t holding them. But I plead guilty to forgetting to take it!

The exchange concerning the bags that are supposed to break down reminds me of a shell game…is the plastic here in one piece or is it there in many tiny pieces? The chemistry is quicker than the eye!

My daily newspaper comes double wrapped in plastic if it is a rainy day. This is to allow the grown men who have replaced the paper boys to thrown the papers outside… Read more »

7 years 9 months ago

Was there an option not to receive the phone books at all?
God knows I don’t need one.

7 years 9 months ago

Ok, the bag breaks down in sunlight. And how many landfills have sunlight in them? Better to maybe put out the phone books every other year and save paper and irritation.

7 years 9 months ago

A Rebuttal…

“Long-term re-usable shopping bags are not the answer.”


“They are much thicker and more expensive,”

Oh…so, therefore they are less likely to break and you can load them up with more than two items, which is what baggers typically do at the store, thus the need for twice as many plastic bags vs. the reusable kind … you see this as a problem?!?

“and a large number of them would be required for the weekly shopping of an average family.”

If you are reusing them, you do not need a large number, only the same 10 or so required, over and… Read more »

7 years 9 months ago

Another great post. Thanks so much for doing this in-depth research and sharing it with those of us with less time.

I *love* their arguments why re-usable shopping bags are not the answer. BECAUSE they are thicker, you can actually fill reusable bags to capacity without breaking, unlike thin, one-use plastic bags. Of course they are more expensive, but if we’re worried about Retail America here, the store is not bearing the “burden” of providing reusable bags, the consumer is. Yes, a family needs a few, but we have 3 kids, have fairly average buying habits and I can get by… Read more »

7 years 9 months ago

I was hoping you had found out how to stop the unsolicited delivery of phone books. Mine go right in to recycle as we don’t use them. If I need a phone number I use the internet dex website.

7 years 9 months ago

Agree whole-heartedly. Disposable is wasteful, not matter what it is made from. And also, that hygenic comment? Yeah. WTF? Do they think we’re carrying around organs for transplant in there?!?! I don’t think my fruit loops will be harmed by being tossed in my “non-hygenic” bag. Besides, have you seen the bagboys that are handling your groceries?!?!? I think the bags are the LEAST of our worries!

7 years 9 months ago

Forgot to ask…

Have you seen the documentary “Blue Vinyl”?

If not, you need to get a copy. Today’s blog reminded me of a scene in there where a PVC sales rep was trying to pass off PVC as safe because chloride contains salt and so PVC is as safe as table salt.

7 years 9 months ago

You bet stores should charge a fee for plastic bags! Trader Joe’s offers a chance to win a $25 TJ gift certificate every time you don’t use one of their bags; Berkeley Bowl gives a $.05 credit for every bag that you bring and fill; and Ikea charges $.05 per bag and they donate the money to a tree-growing charity. Tonight I went to TJ for one item so I didn’t bring my shopping bag but I wound up buying five items and had to carry them rolled up in the front of my sweater because I was… Read more »

7 years 9 months ago

I use canvas bags but market baskets are my favorite:
You can really load them up, plus they draw a lot of attention and that’s a good opportunity to start a conversation.

The only thing better is NO bag! I very rarely wash my canvas bags. I put meat in them and back into service they go – yes, even loose vegetables are rolling around in there!

One thing I cannot stand is going to the organic farm and watching people put bananas in a plastic bag, oranges in a plastic bag, potatoes in a… Read more »