How to Retire an American Flag (the Right Way)


Featuring 50 stars and 13 stripes, the American flag embodies our country’s freedom and core values. Each star represents a state, while the stripes represent the 13 British colonies that declared their independence from the tyrannical Great Britain. Because of its significance, the American flag should never be disposed of in trash. Once a flag has reached the end of its life, it should be “retired” in a proper, dignified manner, which is something that we’re going to discuss further in today’s blog post.

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The ‘Flag Code’

While throwing away the American flag is not illegal, it’s considered poor etiquette and thus should be avoided. Title 4, Chapter 1, of the US Flag Code states the following:

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.”

Granted, this is somewhat of a broad statement that is open for interpretation, but the emphasis of the US Flag Code involves disposal in a “dignified” manner.

Recycle Your American Flag

Instead of disposing your American flag, you may want to recycle it. There are several companies that will gladly take your worn, battered and torn American flag, breaking it down for use in a new flag. A simple Google search for “American flag recycling” will yield dozens if not hundreds of choices. Or when Flag Day rolls around (June 14, FYI), some local establishments in your city may accept American flags for the purpose of recycling.

Ceremonial Burning of the American Flag

As noted in the US Flag Code cited above, the preferred method for retiring a damaged American flag is burning. This doesn’t mean that you should toss it into an open fire, however. The flag should be folded military style into the traditional triangle fold, at which point it can then be carefully lowered into the fire while those around take a moment to salute and honor it.  Some organizations may say the Pledge of Allegiance during this moment, while others have their own ceremony scripts, such as the Boy Scouts script which is listed here.

Ask for Help

Alternatively, you can seek help to properly retire your American flag. American Legion Posts, Boy Scouts clubs, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars often hold flag retirement ceremonies in which old American flags are disposed of in a dignified manner. While most of these organizations will retire your flag for free, it’s recommended that you make a small cash donation to show your support.

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