“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
-The United States Flag Code, Title 4, Section 8k
U.S. flags have been flying to show pride and dedication to our great nation, but many people are not familiar with proper ways of disposing worn out United States Flags. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, millions of nylon American flags have been made. Never before has recycling and replacement of the worn American Flag been such an issue. The following was created to inform consumers of proper ways to dispose or recycle American flags.
What is Flag Retirement?
Flag Retirement is the term used to define the proper, dignified way of destroying United States flags that are no longer fit to serve the nation.
How badly damaged does a flag need to be before it should be retired?
It is in the eye of the beholder to determine the condition of a flag. Often a flag only needs cleaning to restore its original appearance. Flags can machine-washed in cold water with a mild detergent using the delicate cycle. They should be laid flat or hung to dry. Never place a flag in the dryer and never fold the flag when it is damp.
It is recommended that you mend a tattered flag at early signs of wear, if possible. The first part of a flag to show wear is usually the fly end, the outer edge of the flag, or seams that may have unraveled due to stress from the wind.
If the flag appears too tattered for repair, then the flag should be retired.
What is the preferred way to destroy old, worn, frayed and/or faded U.S. Flags?
The preferred way to destroy old, worn, frayed and/or faded U.S. Flags is by burning them.
Isn’t burning the flag an act of desecration and a sign of rebellion?
No, throughout history, burning or cremation has long been considered a dignified way of paying respect to the deceased and to objects worthy of veneration. Burning has been applied to flag retirement to offer the most reverent method of final tribute.
Can anyone retire a U.S. Flag?
The Flag code does not authorize any particular organization with the duty of retiring unfit flags. Any one person or group can do it.
Where and how should a Flag Retirement ceremony be performed?
Flags should be retired in private at a non-public location and the ceremony should be a solemn, dignified event.
Is there an official ceremony for retiring flags?
No. There is no one official ceremony.
My municipality prohibits open fires and/or the burning of flags. What can I do?
If you live in such a community, you will need to find an organization that provides flag retirement services. Contact your local chapter, post or unit of such a community organization.
Another option is to separate the blue star field from the stripes and then to separate the stripes from each other. Once this is done the material is no longer a flag and the pieces may be respectfully interred as part of the ceremony.
Is it permissible to cut up the American flag?
Yes, some organizations even recommend cutting the flags into smaller pieces before placing them in the incinerator or on the fire. When doing this please keep the union of blue intact. Doing so symbolizes that the unity of our union should never be broken.
Burning Your Flag:
The most common way to dispose of unserviceable U.S. flags is by burning. The Ceremony for Disposal of Unserviceable Flags was approved through Resolution No. 440 by the National Convention of The American Legion meeting in New York on September 20-23, 1937. At that time most American flags were made of cotton or wool. Today the vast majority of American flags are made of nylon or other petroleum-based materials.
The current American flag disposal ceremony was set forth in September 1937 when virtually all flags were made with cotton or wool. Today’s flags last much longer and are typically made of nylon or polyester.
Burning American flags made of nylon (a petroleum product) creates hazardous gases and wastes resources. Ironically, burning American flags increases our dependence on foreign oil. According to DuPont’s “Material Safety Data Sheet” burning nylon produces: “Hazardous gases / vapors produced in fire are formaldehydes, ammonia, carbon monoxide, cyclopentanone, oxides of nitrogen, traces of hydrogen cyanide, incompletely burned hydrocarbons.
Organizations that Accept Flags for Retirement:
Depending on your area, we have found that the following organizations will accept flags for retirement:
- VFW Post
- American Legion Post
- Fire Department
- Boy Scout Troop
- Girl Scout Troop
- Marine Corp League
Before accepting a flag for retirement, the recipient should obtain information about its history. For example: Where has it flown? How long? Any memorable events happen at that site? This information should be used in the ceremony.