The U.S. Flag Code is pretty clear on one topic: the Old Glory that becomes too worn out or damaged to serve as an honorable display of the country should be destroyed with dignity, and preferably by burning.
So, does that mean you absolutely have to burn the Stars and Stripes? Certainly not!
There are several equally respectful ways how to properly dispose of an American flag that is too old or damaged to be displayed, so you can choose whichever suit you best.
Here are all of them, along with the burning part.
Bury the Flag
If the flag is ready for retirement, it means it is ready for burial. Of course, you would need to have a suitable location in your backyard for the ceremony.
Fold the Old Glory into a triangle and place it in a smart wooden box. Dig a hole deep enough for the box (a couple of feet) and focus on the solemnity of the moment. Prior to placing the box into the ground, you could consider saying the Pledge of Alliance.
Use the Flag Disposal Box
Depending on your location, you should be able to find a flag disposal box in your proximity. Normally, flag disposal boxes are placed in police stations or the local government offices. Just fold the flag into the ceremonial triangle and put it away with dignity and respect.
What happens to the flag afterward? It will be retired in the most respectful way. There are several organizations (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Veterans of Foreign Wars, etc.) that collect the flags a couple of times a year and prepare special ceremonies. If you dispose of your flag around June, chances are it will be retired on June 14th, i.e. Flag Day, as it is a popular day for holding a flag disposal ceremony.
Recycle the Flag
If you can’t take the Stars and Stripes to the flag disposal box or retire it in some other way, there is also the possibility of recycling the flag.
The recycling boxes are more available, and you can find them in any local shopping mall. Still, in order to recycle the flag with respect, you have to strip it of its national emblem features, i.e., transform it into a piece of material rather than a US flag.
In other words, you’ll have some material cutting to do.
By cutting the union part (without touching the stars), you will turn the flag into simple material of no national value.
Burning the Flag
First of all, you mustn’t consider burning the flag if it is made of materials that emit harmful chemicals while burning. That’s almost every other flag, as most of them are made of nylon or polyester.
In order to perform the burning ceremony, you should first enquire whether it is legal (and safe) to light an open fire in your backyard. If the local rules say it is allowed, start by lighting a fire and folding the flag into the ceremonial triangle.
You may have heard of the rule that the flag must not touch the ground. This is still respected up to a point as you’ll be placing the flag onto the flames rather than directly onto the soil. Tossing the flag onto the fire should be done with due respect too.
Once the fire is put out, you will be left with a pile of ashes. Similarly, to the process of burying the flag, you should collect the ashes and bury them in a neat place. Never ever should you even think about throwing the ashes into the garbage.
Call Boy or Girl Scouts (or Veterans)
One of the easiest ways how to properly dispose of an American flag would be to make a direct call to the Boy or Girl Scouts organization in your area, or a veteran organization. They are entitled to retire your flag in the best possible manner.
Your flag will either be a part of their ceremony, or they will forward it to the right address, i.e. a bigger organization that takes care of retired flags.
Besides them, you can probably find similar organizations that take care of old US flags, but you will have to pay the shipping fee.
Here's the Right Way to Dispose an American Flag
Finally, let’s summarize by saying that you should always think in advance. If you see your flag is showing signs of wear and tear, it’s high time you bought a new one. You can fold the old Stars and Stripes and put them away in a safe place before you decide on the preferred method, but don’t forget to order a new flag first!
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