PITTSBURG -- Plastic bags will be a relic of the past after the City Council unanimously gave the tentative OK to do away with the environmental menace.

Under the ordinance, grocery stores and other retailers in Pittsburg would not be able to provide customers with single-use plastic bags, which can end up in bay waters and strewn along streets in this windy city when shoppers throw them away.

The matter will come back to the council for a second public hearing and formal consideration at an Oct. 21 meeting. If approved at that meeting, the ordinance would go into effect Jan. 15, 2014, and Pittsburg would be the first East County city to have such a ban.

A plastic bag clings to a weed as the wind blows along West Leland Road in Pittsburg, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2013. Pittsburg has tentatively banned
A plastic bag clings to a weed as the wind blows along West Leland Road in Pittsburg, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2013. Pittsburg has tentatively banned plastic bags from grocery and other retail stores. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

The idea behind the ordinance is to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags to stores and to cut down on the blight and environmental damage associated with plastic bags.

"We see them flying everywhere. They are just kind of (a) persistent mess we have to deal with," said Laura Wright, the city's waste reduction coordinator.

The impetus for the ban started about three years ago after Mayor Nancy Parent heard from several residents who wanted the bags to go away and asked her: "When are you going to come into the 21st century?"

The Chamber of Commerce asked the council hold off on giving tentative approval until the Oct. 21 meeting, but that didn't happen.

"We are not necessarily opposed to the ordinance but would like an opportunity to get comments from our local business," said Brad Nail, who is on the chamber's board of directors and the former economic development director for Pittsburg.

The chamber planned to gather those comments at its regular board meeting on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. at the chamber office at 985 Railroad Ave.

The city had sent out about 100 letters to local retailers that would be impacted by the ban. The California Grocers Association and two environmental groups -- Save The Bay and Save Mount Diablo -- wrote letters in support of the ban. Residents also wrote about a dozen letters, with sentiment split between supporting the ban and opposing it.

The ban would not apply to restaurants, plastic garment bags or protective bags used for items such as fresh produce, meat, prepared foods and prescription medicine. Also, charitable organizations such as thrift stores would be exempt.