The 4th of July is right around the corner, and as we look forward to barbecues and fireworks, we will no doubt be producing more trash and recycling.
When we think of items that we regularly throw away or recycle, the American Flag doesn’t often come to mind. That’s because we hang them proudly; and the thought of throwing them in the garbage bin (or even the recycling bin) would feel unpatriotic. But many of us know it is far worse to hang a tattered or damaged flag than to dispose of it-properly. So what IS the proper and respectful way to dispose of an American Flag?
We pride ourselves on giving you the correct facts on how to dispose of and recycle a variety of materials in our monthly newsletter. When it comes to retiring your American flag, we couldn’t think of a better time to provide you with this specialty information to ensure that your flag doesn’t sit gathering dust in a basement, or worse-yet end up in your trash can.
But first, let’s define what an official American flag is: The U.S. Flag consists of a blue rectangle bearing 50 white stars (representing each state) and 13 alternating red and white stripes (representing the 13 original colonies).
This is common knowledge to most of us, but we just wanted to ensure you that the following disposal methods are only required for official American Flags. (Flag patterned bandanas and board shorts need not apply, even in July).
Ceremonial Flag Burning
It may come as a surprise to many that one of the proper methods of retiring your tattered or damaged flag is in fact-to burn it. But before you gasp at the thought (as I did before I read on in my research on this topic), according to Wikipedia, the burning ceremony is in no way haphazard, rather it requires a specific ceremony. The flag is folded correctly, laid on a bonfire and burned patriotically, while being saluted, or having someone at the burning ceremony recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem.
This process is used mainly for individuals retiring their personal flags at home. But what if you don’t feel comfortable burning your flag on your own? What if you don’t know how to properly fold a flag? (In case you were wondering… http://www.usflag.org/foldflag.html)
But more logically…what if you simply can’t build a fire on your own property? Rest easy, there are many other methods to choose from when you are ready to retire your flag.
If you cannot burn a flag, you may choose to bury it. To bury the flag, begin by finding a dignified wooden box – it should be of good quality and construction, as this box will serve as the flag’s vessel as it is interred in the ground.
Fold the flag correctly and respectfully then place it in the box.
Bury the flag in the ground. You may even consider giving your flag a short “funeral”. Give a speech on the importance of the flag then stand at attention as the flag is lowered into the ground. Observe a moment of silence as the flag is buried. You may even choose to mark the burial location with a small, patriotic marker.
You may also shred your flag. Shredding an American flag may seem violent but the US Army’s Heraldry Institute assures that shredding is an acceptable disposal method, provided it is done with reverence.
Use sharp scissors to slowly and accurately separate the thirteen stripes, leaving the blue star-spangled field intact.
After the flag is cut into pieces, place it in a respectful receptacle and bury it following the above procedures or ceremoniously burn the pieces one by one, starting with the stripes and ending with the blue field.
Giving your Flag to a Qualified Organization
Specific United States government organizations offer services to conduct the ceremony to properly dispose of flags for no charge, upon request.
The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Boy and Girl Scouts of America and the US Military all provide this service. If you don’t have access to any of these organizations, contact your city hall or local government.