The United States Flag Code outlines proper etiquette for use of the American Flag. It covers everything from properly folding and correctly flying it down to the details of how to respectfully retire the flag. Read on for some important (and surprising) facts about how to retire Old Glory when it is faded, tattered or torn.
The U.S. Flag Code states that, “the flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
WAIT -- Did we just say "BURNING"?!
Yes. Yes we did. But don't worry. This process starts with the appropriate folding of the flag (instructions on that here) followed by a burning ceremony that includes recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a moment of silence, and a reverent burial of the ashes once the flag is consumed.
But what if you're not comfortable conducting your own burning ceremony? What if you can't build a fire on your property? OR- what if your flag is made of synthetic materials like nylon or polyester that aren't safe to burn due to the release of toxic fumes? (as opposed to the cotton and wool construction that was common when this code was written).
There are several other options for Dignified Disposal:
Flags can also be buried as long as they are appropriately folded and placed in a dignified wood box that is of good quality and construction. The burial should also be ceremonious, including a moment of silence. You can also mark the burial location with a small, patriotic marker.
The US Army's Heraldry Institute confirms that shredding is also an acceptable disposal method if conducted appropriately. This process includes accurately separating the thirteen stripes but leaving the blue star-spangled field intact. Next, the flag should be buried following the above burial method.
Because of the artificial/synthetic materials frequently used for making modern flags, recycling is becoming a more and more common Dignified Disposal option. American Flag Recycling or your local landfill or recycling center can help provide additional information on this topic.
Many groups hold annual or semi-annual flag retirement ceremonies to ensure that all burning complies with code. Examples of these organizations are Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, Boy and Girl Scouts of America, and the US Military. You can also contact your city hall or local government to inquire about this service.
A Local Option
G.I. Junk Removal provides Dignified Disposal of U.S. Flags at no charge. Please contact us to make arrangements.
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