How to Properly Dispose of an American Flag

As the most common symbol of the United States of America and a representation of all of the sacrifice that was made to help found the nation, many people have a flag on display at their homes to take pride in our nation. And while steps can be taken to help flags last for years, eventually you will reach a point where it comes time to take the flag and “retire” or dispose of it. However, as a sign of respect to the flag and the nation, the flag has a particular method of disposal.

When retiring or disposing of an American Flag, it is considered etiquette and tradition to burn the flag. Start by properly folding the flag into a triangle, and then place the flag into a burning fire. Traditionally, the Pledge of Allegiance is said or a moment of silence is given afterward.

However, several other methods have been deemed respectable ways for a flag to be retired. While the U.S. Flag Code does specifically mention that burning the flag is the best option, if proper steps are taken to make the retirement of the flag dignified, those methods are approved. Below, I will explain the process of how to dispose of the American Flag in multiple different methods from the recommended burning to options for those who can’t start fires.

How to Perform a Flag Burning Ceremony

Since the United States flag is such an important symbol, it is considered a desecration of the flag ceremony that is not performed in a certain manner. This is because the flag itself is considered to be a living representation of the country and should be treated with greater respect than any official or person.

Before you decide to retire your flag first have to know when it reaches the point where it needs to be retired. The U.S. Flag Code states, “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.”

So, once you feel that your flag needs to be retired, first take your flag and without letting it touch the ground fold the flag in the proper method. For those who don’t know how to fold a flag, check out the simple directions here.

After your flag has been folded, wait until your fire has gotten to a full burn before placing it respectfully into the flames. As the flag burns, those in either a scout or military uniform should salute while everyone else should place their hand over their hearts. Typically the Pledge of Allegiance is then said followed by a moment of science.

At some military bases, they retire their flags first, cutting away the blue section of the flag. Then one by one, starting at the top, cut off the 13 stripes and place them into the fire. However, the typical folded flag method is just a good option and plenty of military bases perform the standard ceremony as described above.

Burying a Flag

Another option when it comes to retiring a flag is burying it, however, special care must be taken when doing this to prevent disrespecting the flag. This is a good option if you are unable to burn it since it still will be given a respectable send-off.

First, you will want to find a solid, well-constructed wooded box that the flag can be placed in and buried. After this, prepare the flag by folding it properly before placing it into the box. It is recommended that before placing the box on the ground you give a short speech on the importance of the flag. Then, stand at attention, saluting or hand over heart while it is lowered to the ground. Finish by having a moment of silence while it is buried and mark the place it was buried with a patriotic marker. (Source)

However, when you are preparing the flag, make sure to prevent the flag from touching the ground as this is considered disrespectful. The U.S. Flag Code states, “The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.”

Community Disposal Box

Another option if you are unable to burn your flag is to take it to a community disposal box so that organizations like the American Legion, Girl Scouts and Boys Scouts of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Most communities will have several different disposal locations where you can go and drop off your old flags. These organizations will then take these flags and retire them properly in a respectful way during ceremonies they hold throughout the year.

Flag Day (June 14) is one of the most common days to hold these ceremonies since they help remind us of the importance of the flags and all that they mean. However, to find the nearest disposal box near you, either simply search “Flag disposal box near me” or check here.

Recycling a Flag

One of the least common ways to dispose of a flag is to recycle it. Some flags when burned produce dangerous fumes for both people and the environment so, it is best not to burn them but to recycle them so that the material can be used to make a new flag. Some flag companies will accept old flags, to best find these places, it is recommended that you talk with officials from the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars. (Source)

Who can Perform Flag Ceremonies?

A flag ceremony can be performed by anyone as the U.S. Flag Code makes no statements about specific people needing to perform the ceremony. However, in order to keep the ceremony, whether it be burning or burying the flag respect, the person performing the ceremony should be well aware of the steps in order to retire the flag with respect and dignity. In order to know how to properly perform your own ceremonies, check here for the traditional procedure.

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