So it's really over? No more chirpy grocery store clerks asking customers, "Paper or plastic?"

The era of disposable bags in stores that sell prepackaged food or alcohol -- as well as large pharmacies -- is officially over in Alameda County. On. Jan. 1, the county's ban on disposable bags, covering some 2,000 establishments, went into effect. Businesses may still distribute recyclable paper bags at checkout. But customers have to fork over 10 cents per bag. Their other option is to bring their own reusable bags.

Alameda County has now joined San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo and other parts of the world that have passed laws to cut down on plastic bag pollution. County officials and environmentalists say the ban will save on the cost of litter cleanup and reduce the volume of plastic bags that end up discarded into our waterways.

Store Manager Ann Bradford, left, holds a reusable shopping bag for sale at the Lucky supermarket in the Montclair district of Oakland, Calif. on Friday,
Store Manager Ann Bradford, left, holds a reusable shopping bag for sale at the Lucky supermarket in the Montclair district of Oakland, Calif. on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. (Jane Tyska/Staff) ( JANE TYSKA )

Most of us are going along with the program., though there are those Alameda County residents who insist they'll start shopping in Contra Costa County. Burning up all that gas to get some free plastic bags? Sounds like a winner to me.

A lot of people were already using the reusables. You know, those goody two shoes you always see at Trader Joe's.

But for everyone else, it's been an adjustment.

I went to the supermarket Thursday. I had forgotten all about the new law.

I bought eggs, a carton of milk and two bottles of salad dressing. It wasn't until I got to the checkout stand that something clicked. The cashier asked if I wanted a bag. I asked with suspicion if I had to pay for it.


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When she said yes, I said, "no thanks." I walked out, toting the milk in one hand, the eggs in the other, one salad dressing bottle under my left arm and the other under my right. I guess if I'd bought bread, I would have had to balance it on my head because I wasn't paying for any paper bags. The next day, I invested in two reusables. Only I forget them at home on my next trip to the grocery store. The lesson? Keep them in the car or near the front door.

For some, the ban is more than a mere inconvenience.

"It's really hard when you are a senior, and you are on a walker or a cane," says Gwendolyn Price, pastor at Holy Cross Baptist Church in Oakland. "Now you have to come in with bags and walk out with them too?"

Price also said some store bags are flimsy. She saw a senior whose bags burst on the bus. The woman had to pick her groceries up off the floor and put them in her walker.

Gloria Tyler, an Alameda resident, was not at all pleased when she went to pick up her prescription at Kaiser and was charged 10 cents for a bag. "I had no idea the pharmacies were also charging," she said.

One group that will really feel the ban's impact are dog owners. There are no more freebie plastic grocery stores bags for picking up Fido's poop. Now the owners will have to buy bags at pet stores or purchase a pooper scooper. Let's just hope the ban doesn't encourage too many people to become irresponsible and not clean up behind their dogs. Otherwise, we will have created another very nasty environmental problem in our efforts to fix another.

Dog owners Delilah Soto and her partner, Raquel Anderson, have been stockpiling plastic bags. They figure their supply will last another three weeks.

After that?

"We'll use the bags that the newspaper comes in," Soto said.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/Tammerlin.