A Patriot's Guide to Retiring an American Flag
The American flag will always be an enduring symbol of our history, values and culture. Nonetheless, flags do not last forever. Over time, your flag will become soiled, faded or frayed from exposure to the elements or the passage of time itself. When one or more of these conditions becomes evident, it is every patriot's duty to retire an old flag respectfully. Luckily, there are multiple options for appropriate flag disposal.
Option One: A Ceremonial BurningAlthough the idea of burning a flag may sound like a violent desecration, this is the preferred method of disposal, according to the United States government. In fact, the American Legion has produced a detailed procedure for retiring old American flags through burning that they approved at their 19th National Convention in September 1937. Essential elements include:
- Conducting the ceremony at night
- Maintaining a reverent atmosphere
- Ensuring that the flag is properly folded before burning
- Only burning the flag in a large bonfire
- Ensuring all parts of the flag fully burn down to ashes
- Offering prayers of thanks afterwards
Option Two: Cutting Your FlagBecause modern flags are made from petroleum-based products, burning them releases toxic gases such as "formaldehydes, ammonia, carbon monoxide, cyclopentanone, oxides of nitrogen, traces of hydrogen cyanide [and] incompletely burned hydrocarbons." Therefore, people are increasingly looking to methods other than ceremonial burning to respectfully dispose of an American flag. Cutting your flag into pieces is one approved option for disposal. This is acceptable because once it is cut into pieces, it is no longer considered a flag. The U.S. Scouts Procedure for Cutting and Retiring a Flag dictates you must:
- Stretch the flag out by its four corners.
- Cut the flag in half widthwise, being careful not to cut in any part of the blue area. This blue star field symbolizes the union of all 50 states and therefore should not be cut or otherwise split apart in any way.
- Put the two halves together and cut in half lengthwise.
- This will leave you with four sections of flag. Three will be red and white stripes, and one will be the blue star field.
- Dispose of these pieces of the flag properly.
Option Three: Recycling Your FlagRecycling is an eco-friendly option for respectfully retiring your flag that is gaining increasing popularity. Several companies offer recycling services for your flag. For example, American Flag Disposal will recycle your flag using the following procedure:
- Make a nominal suggested donation that is based on the size of your flag.
- The company collects retired flags until there is enough tonnage to ship them to a fabric recycler.
- Part of your donation covers the cost of recycling your flag.
- The remainder of your donation goes to Operation Purple Heart.
Option Four: Flag BurialHave you ever considered offering final rites for your flag? American Disposal Services offers the rather innovative solution of burying your flag. To do so, they recommend:
- Folding your flag correctly.
- Placing it in a wooden box.
- Burying it in the ground.
- Offering a short funeral or prayer for your flag after you have buried it.