Two-phase partitioning bioreactors (TPPBs) are characterized by a cell-containing aqueous phase and a second immiscible phase that contains toxic and/or hydrophobic substrates that partition to the cells at subinhibitory levels in response to the metabolic demand of the organisms. To date, the delivery phase in TPPBs has been a hydrophobic solvent that traditionally needed to possess a variety of important properties including biocompatibility, nonbioavailability, low volatility, and low cost, among others. In the present work we have shown that the organic solvent phase can be replaced by inexpensive polymer beads that function in a similar fashion as organic solvents, delivering a toxic substrate to cells based on equilibrium considerations. Specifically, 3.4 mm diameter beads of poly(ethylene-co-vinyl acetate) (EVA) were used to reduce the aqueous concentration of phenol in a bioreactor from toxic levels ( ∼2,000 mg/L) to subinhibitory levels (∼750 mg/L), after which Pseudomonas putida ATCC 11172 was added to the system and allowed to consume the total phenol loading. Thus, the beads absorbed the toxic substrate and released it to the cells on demand. The EVA beads, which could be reused, were able to absorb 14 mg phenol/g EVA. This work has opened the possibility of using widely mixed cultures in TPPB systems without concern for degradation of the delivery material and without concern of contamination. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals. Biotechnol Bioeng84: 399–305, 2003.