When an American flag becomes torn, faded, or otherwise worn out, it is important to understand how to properly dispose of it. Destroying an American flag in a respectful manner, such as by burning, is preferred under the United States Flag Code when the flag can no longer be flown. However, not all situations make burning the flag possible or practical. There are a variety of other options when it comes to properly disposing of a worn-out American flag.
Burning the Flag
Burning the flag is the preferred way to retire an American flag. This is the most respectful way to dispose of a flag as it ensures that it will not be used for any other purpose. Burning is a simple option, however, there are many details that can make this more challenging. Depending on where you live, burning the flag may not be allowed by local laws or regulations. Additionally, when burned, synthetic materials may melt instead of burn and emit harmful chemicals and in the end leave a mess.
Even while there isn’t a specific ceremony that must take place before a worn-out flag can be burned, there are frequently patriotic programs that collect flags to be burned. The importance of showing respect for the flag of the United States of America is maintained throughout these rituals, despite their differences in format.
Alternatives to Burning
If burning the flag is not a viable option, there are other ways to properly dispose of a worn-out American flag. One option is to separate the blue field from the stripes, and respectfully box the stripes and the star field in two separate boxes for disposal. Another option, if you have a 3’x5′ worn out American flag, you can ship the blue star field to Stars for our Troops. Find out what this organization does with the stars here.
Flags with Special Meaning
Some flags should be replaced, not burned or thrown away when they become worn. Flags of sentimental or historical value should be preserved. You may still pass these flags down through the generations with pride, even if they aren’t museum quality. If a flag is retained for this purpose, it should be documented in writing, including its origins and where it has been displayed.
Historically, burning the flag was the preferred and most respectful way to retire an American flag. This was when flags were exclusively made out of cotton or wool. Unfortunately, because flags today are mostly made of synthetic materials there is still some debate in which way flags should be retired. Regardless of the method chosen, a high level of respect must be shown to the American flag at all times.