The bill, passed by the city council 10-1 Tuesday after two years of study, does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2012, the San Jose Mercury News reported. It would bar retailers from giving out disposable plastic bags at checkout and make them charge for paper bags.
"This is a great step," Councilman Sam Liccardo said. "It's an opportunity to lead on an important environmental issue."
San Francisco led the way with a ban on plastic bags in 2007, but San Jose goes further.
The ordinance covers most retailers, not just groceries and pharmacies, and discourages disposable paper bags by charging customers for them.
David Lewis, executive director of the environmental group Save the Bay, called disposable plastic bags "one of the most visible and unsightly forms of pollution in the bay." He said the Bay Area uses 3.8 billion plastic bags a year.
Timothy James of the California Grocers Association praised amendments that allow bags for pharmaceuticals and meats.