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How and Where to Dispose of a US Flag

Updated on December 27, 2015

Proper ways to dispose of a flag of the United States

At work one day, a co-worker saw my son's cub scout popcorn fundraiser and asked if my son's cub scout pack did ceremonies to properly dispose of a US Flag. We don't, but that got me to thinking, who does and where could my co-worker take his worn out flag? When is a flag considered worn out? What are the proper procedures to dispose of a US flag? I will attempt to answer these questions in this article.

The United States Flag Code provides the rules for displaying the flag and how to show respect for the flag of the United States.

Just a quick note though. I have purposely labeled this page US Flag Disposal, as different countries and cultures may have different ways in disposing flags.

Picture is of Tattered American flags awaiting proper disposal at the Mark Lance Armory, June 23, 2011. Photo by Crystal McNairy

When is a flag considered worn out?

The US Flag Code does not give a specific definition of when a flag should no longer be flown and instead disposed. The flag code does use the phrase "no longer a fitting emblem for display" which can be interpretted in many ways. Below is a list of some conditions when a flag is no longer fit to fly:

- stained

- torn

- tattered on the fringes

- faded

- mutilated

- defaced

The flag code also mentions that a flag should never touch anything below it, however, it does not say that if a flag touches the ground it should be disposed. I can see by putting the two statements together where some could come up with the rule. A flag that touches the ground and is still fit to be displayed does not have to be disposed of.

What are the proper disposal procedures for a US flag?

Again, the US Flag Code is vague here in stating:

"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."

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, VFW, picks up where the flag code leaves off and offers this advice on the VFW website:

1. The flag should be folded in its customary manner.

2. It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.

3. Place the folded flag on the fire.

4. The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.

5. After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the flag's ashes buried.

6. Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.

There are some documented ceremonies for disposing of a flag the American Legion Ceremony and this Boy Scouts Ceremony are great examples of how to retire a US flag.

An Example of a Flag Disposal Ceremony

Boy Scout Troop 498 conducting a flag retirement ceremony.

Where Can I Take a US Flag to be Disposed

In addition to the sites below, also contact your local Verterans Affairs offices. For example, the City of Columbus, Ohio has drop boxes in several locations where you can drop off your tattered or weathered American Flag.

Where have you disposed of an American Flag?

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