How to Dispose of an American Flag

When an American flag needs to be retired, it’s important to follow proper protocol to respect the flag and all that it represents. To properly dispose of an American flag, there’s a group of people who burn it while it’s still in good condition and dispose of any remaining ashes in a respectful manner.

Disposing of an American Flag: The Proper Way

Congress amended the Flag Code in 1976 to assert that the U.S. flag is a living entity and has all the rights of a living being including the right to exist and expire with dignity.

In this piece, we discuss how to respectfully and responsibly dispose of an American flag.

What Happens When You Carelessly Burn An American Flag?

When someone burns a flag carelessly, they’re not just destroying a piece of cloth; they’re attacking the country and what it stands for. Many people think burning a flag is allowed as free speech—it isn’t. For one thing, you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theater, so your freedom to free speech ends when your actions infringe on other people’s freedoms.

When you burn a flag, you’re basically destroying it. The flag is made from different types of cloth that contain materials like nylon and dyes that release toxic fumes when they’re burned.

These fumes are both smelly and harmful to breathe in, so burning a flag isn’t something to do lightly—it can even be dangerous for those who live nearby! Luckily, there are safe ways to dispose of a flag properly so it doesn’t end up in landfills or cause harm to others.

Safe Ways to Dispose of a Flag Properly

Because they’re not biodegradable, your only options for properly disposing of a flag are by burning (in a proper manner), donating, recycling or burying.

Donating The Flag

Donating a flag to charity is preferable to burning it since it will be treated with respect during its journey from its old home to its new one. To donate a flag, simply call up your local VFW or Boy Scout troop and ask about their policies on accepting flags. If you don’t have any luck there, try calling up nearby fire departments and police stations as well as schools—they often accept donations too.

Recycling The Flag

Many cities offer free drop-off services for recycling purposes; check online to see if yours does! You can also contact your city’s sanitation department to find out where to take your flag.

Most local government offices will have information on how to properly recycle old flags. You can also contact companies that specialize in recycling old flags and other military memorabilia. They accept all types of flags—American and otherwise—and ensure they’re disposed of safely. Recycling is one of the best ways to get rid of an old flag because it keeps it out of landfills and doesn’t pollute soil or water supplies.

Steps You Should Follow When Recycling A Flag

  1. Cut up your flag into small pieces before placing it in a box for transport. Smaller pieces mean less work for recyclers, which means more efficient processing!
  2. Donate any buttons, clips, or medals attached to your flag before recycling it. Some organizations need these parts to make new items, so don’t throw them away.
  3. If possible, find a program near you that recycles old flags (you can call local government offices). If not, check with companies that specialize in reprocessing materials from clothing (like recycled denim) and ask if they’ll take your flag.

Properly Burning The Flag

The U.S. Flag Code says “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”. 

Carelessly burning your flag is considered desecration and is against federal law. So, if you have no other option but to burn it, you can do so in a legal place that is out of public view. However, most people won’t be comfortable doing so.

Warning: Note: If your flag is made from nylon or polyester, do not burn it! It is hazardous to humans and the environment. Consider recycling or burying it.

Burying The Flag

disposing of American flag
Image by Rose Mary

Burying your flag isn’t ideal, but in some ways, it’s certainly better than burning it. Since most flags aren’t biodegradable (they don’t break down easily), burying them could cause damage to your local environment. For example, buried flags can contaminate soil and groundwater supplies with their toxic fumes or chemicals.  

Before burying it, the flag should be folded in the ceremonial triangle, placed in a strong wooden box, and buried a few feet in the ground. You must make sure to handle it with care and consider its meaning as you bury it.

Steps You Should Follow When Burying A Flag

  1. Remove all parts of a flag that aren’t fabric before burying it (such as buttons) and fold it into the ceremonial triangle. Anything left behind will pollute soil and water supplies over time.
  2. Cover your flag with at least 8 inches of dirt once you’ve buried it.
  3. Make sure to mark where you’ve buried your flag so no one accidentally digs it up later on.

If possible, try to find a more environmentally-friendly way to dispose of your flag (like recycling or donating). 

When is the Right Time to Retire a Flag?

When is the Right Time to Retire a Flag
Image by Brian McCrossin

Before you retire a flag, there are some steps you should take to make sure it is done in a respectful manner. It’s time to retire your flag when it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our great nation, but how do you know when that time has come?

First and foremost, always be aware of current weather conditions; if winds exceed 15 miles per hour or rain is falling during burial, it could damage your flag during its journey from service to disposal. If you aren’t able to retire your flag in ideal conditions, consider waiting until another day.

You should also never fly a tattered or torn flag—if any part of it is frayed beyond repair, say goodbye to Old Glory and start anew with a new one.

If you have multiple flags available for display, rotate them so they all get their fair share of display time before being retired. The same goes for placing flags on caskets at funerals.

If you don’t have enough flags available, purchase new ones rather than using damaged ones!

Finally, never burn your flag out in the public. This is considered desecration by many veterans’ groups who feel it dishonors their fallen comrades who died defending America under its banner.

What Rule Must I know Before Disposing Of An Old Or Damaged Flag?

A popular question in recent years has been “is there any rule for properly disposing of my old flag?”.

According to many federal regulations, you are not required to destroy or dispose of a worn or damaged flag. You may properly dispose of a flag that is soiled or unsightly. You may also donate them to be recycled, used as a drapery, or upholstery stuffing or if they are in good condition and contain no extraneous materials (ribbons, cords), you may give them away privately. Don’t just toss that “old rag”. It deserves better than that!

Final Thoughts On Proper Disposal Of Your Flag

It’s always appropriate to treat your flag with respect and retire it properly. This can take place during a ceremony in which you burn or bury your flag respectfully. If you choose to bury it, there are three guidelines to remember:

  • don’t just toss it in a hole;
  • don’t give away flags that have become frayed or are tattered;
  • never dispose of a flag by burning it or cutting it up into pieces.

As mentioned before, burning your flag properly is crucial for good intentions and safety. You want to avoid singeing or melting any part of your old flag as it will completely destroy its fabric and ruin its integrity.

And remember, all flags should be folded into a triangle before being disposed of properly. This ensures that no part of it touches the ground, making sure it remains respectful at all times.

A flag is more than just cloth and color; it represents a nation, its history, and its citizens. It deserves proper disposal. By choosing any of these methods (and doing it right), you’ll honor both yourself and your country.

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