The American flag is an honorable thing, embodying the very spirit and ideals upon which this country was founded, and for which so many have fought so valiantly. To honor those values as well as that sacrifice, it is important to take pride in your flag. To that end, there may come a time when your flag becomes worn or damaged, and you must appropriately and dutifully dispose of the old flag before flying anew.
Disposing of a damaged flag properly is an important part of maintaining the respect, reverence, and honor for The Stars and Stripes. Take a look below for some general information regarding proper disposal techniques.
Burning the Flag in a Respectable Manner
Contrary to what some believe, the most appropriate and respectful method of disposing of a worn or damaged flag is to burn it. In order to achieve a proper and dignified flag burning (as well as a safe one), certain steps should be taken beforehand.
Check local burning laws in your area. Some local authorities prohibit building fires without obtaining a permit from the city.
If it is windy outside, consider postponing the burning ceremony until the weather is more suitable.
Construct a fire in a safe location. If possible, use a fire pit that is already in place.
Make sure the area is clean prior to ignition, by sweeping away any leaves, garbage, or debris. These pose a potential fire hazard, as well as their not holding with an environment of respect.
Once the fire has been lit, wait until it has reached a steady burn. The fire must be strong enough to burn the flag, but not so strong that pieces of the flag don’t fully incinerate.
The flag should then be folded in the traditional triangle fold.
Always treat the flag with respect, and do not put it on the ground or carry anything on top of it as you make your way to the fire.
Gently place the folded flag into the fire pit. As the flag burns, keep an eye on it to ensure it is burning safely.
It is customary during this process to come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and finish with a brief period of silence.
After the flag is completely burned, the fire should be safely extinguished, and the ashes buried.
Burying the Flag
If you are unable to burn a flag, there are alternative methods which are also respectful and appropriate. For some, burying the flag is a viable alternative. If you opt to bury your worn or damaged flag, take a look at the information below.
- Choose an appropriate box made of high-quality material.
- Properly fold the flag and place it inside of the box.
- Dig a deep enough hole in the earth so that the flag cannot be retrieved by animals or lawn equipment.
- Consider marking the spot of burial with a small marker.
Shredding the Flag
Still others elect to shred their old flags, and then either bury or burn the pieces. The U.S. Army recommends this as another, viable method of disposal.
- To shred the flag, use scissors to cut apart the 13 stripes.
- Leave the blue star-spangled field in one piece.
- For burial: Once the flag is cut, place the parts into a box and follow burial instructions above.
- For burning: Place the pieces of the flag into the fire one by one and follow the instructions regarding burning above.
Recycling the Flag
Today, many flags are made of nylon, polyester, and other artificial materials, all of which can be recycled. Indeed, if burned, some of these materials can create toxic fumes that are harmful to the air you breathe. To remedy this, there exist many private organizations and non-profits that will recycle flags for you safely and respectfully.
Pass the Flag Along to a Qualified Organization
In addition to companies that will recycle old or damaged flags, many organizations will properly and ceremoniously dispose of your flag. Some of the most popular of these agencies include The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of America and the U.S. Military.
American flags are more than just the fabric they are woven from. They are a symbol of unity, perseverance, justice, and freedom. Whether you opt to burn your flag, shred it, recycle it, or pass it along to another group to handle, make sure you take the time to carefully and responsibly retire your flag. It may seem like a small gesture, but it is a powerful one all the same.