Old U.S. flags that are not recyclable but in bad shape and no longer candidates for cleaning or repairing should be disposed of, or retired, carefully. The preferred disposal methods -- burning and burying -- exhibit respect for the nation's flag and eradicate the possibility of the flag being misused in the future.
Burning Is Preferred
Old flags that are no longer suitable for display are usually burned. There’s no law requiring that all flags be disposed of by burning, but the U.S. Code states that burning is preferable. Snopes.com says this is to prevent the remnants of the flag from ending up in places like garbage heaps. Flag disposal ceremonies are regularly held by organizations such as the American Legion, the Boy Scouts and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Never burn an old flag that's made of a synthetic material like nylon. Burning will melt the remnants and release chemical fumes. The website for the city of Somerville, Massachusetts, recommends recycling nylon flags with other plastics. Cut up the flags first, removing the blue portion before placing the nylon flag parts in a plastic bag.
You can bury a cotton flag when there are no organizations nearby that can burn it and you're unable to recycle it. Separate the flag parts in accordance with the instructions of the city of Somerville and bury them somewhere where you have permission to dig. If you want to bury the flag on land other than your own, you’ll have to be sure you get permission first.
- Snopes.com: Flag Disposal
- Cornell University Law School: Legal Information Institute: 4 U.S. Code § 8 - Respect for flag
- American Legion: Unserviceable Flags Ceremony
- National Flag Foundation: Retiring Old Flags
- Boys’ Life: Consider Recycling, Not Burning, a Retired Flag
- City of Somerville: Proper Disposal of the American Flag
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images