Environmentally Retiring the American Flag!

posted Jul 11, 2017, 7:02 PM by Greg Jewett   [ updated Jul 11, 2017, 7:03 PM ]
The flag of the United States of America, often referred to as the American flag, is the national flag of the United States. It consists of:
  • Thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white.  The 13 stripes represent the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and became the first states in the U.S.
  • A blue rectangle in the canton (referred to specifically as the "union") bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows, where rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternate with rows of five stars. The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America.
As Scouts and Scouters, we recognize the responsibility we have to treat our country's symbols, such as the flag, with respect and dignity, especially in the proper retirement from service. 

A flag should be consider no long eligible for service when:
  • Colors are no longer bright and vibrant, the colors are faded or sun bleached.
  • There are visible tears or damage to the flag such as visible holes.
  • The material of the flag is tattered or seams are unraveling.
  • There are visible stains or discoloring.

Properly Retiring Worn-Out Flags

Under Title 4, Chapter1, § 8, paragraph k of the US Code (often referred to as the Flag Code) it states:

"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."

There are plenty of websites and organizations that list proper ceremonies for retiring an American Flag that includes burning the flags in a ceremonial fashion. 


What about our responsibility to protect the environment and the world in which we live? Isn't that part of being a good citizen too?

Many of the flags in service today are made of synthetic materials, such as nylon, or coated in flag retardants or preservative.  Regardless, the make up of the flag is now that it would produce noxious and/or harmful fumes or residue if burned is horrible for our health and our environment.

There are many different methods to properly retire a flag without burning it.  The code above only dictates that the process be "dignified".  Before accepting a flag for retirement, the recipient should obtain information about its history. For example: Where has it flown?  How long?  Any memorable events happen at that site?  This information should be used in the ceremony.
Disassemble the Flag
Under the premise that a US Flag is no longer a flag once it has been cut into its individual parts and can be disposed of in various methods.  To make the process "dignified", make sure you hold a retirement ceremony before or during the disassembly process.  A flag should never be torn up like an old bed sheet.

  1. Cut the blue star field out from the flag.  DO NOT CUT through the star field.  We do not cut the blue star field as it represents the union of the fifty states and one should never let the union be broken.
  2. Cut and remove pairs of red and white strips.

  3. Remove any grommets and save those for later.
  4. Place the pieces in a box or bag to be disposed of properly (based on material).
PRO: Doesn’t introduce hazardous gases into the environment. Is safe enough for anyone who can use scissors, even younger kids can participate.  CON: Some might consider it less ceremonial.

Recycling the Flag

Do a Google search to find flag recycling groups, such as this one. Some offer the service for free, while others request a small donation for time spent and resources used. The materials from your unit’s worn-out flag will be used to make a new flag for future generations of Americans to enjoy.

Flag Burial

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, place it in the box and then bury it in the ground.

You may even consider giving a your flag 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.
Flag Retirement Ceremony

Person(s) ----- Text or Action

Adult Leader: The U.S. flag is more than just some brightly colored cloth.. it is a symbol of our nation.

Scout #1: Seven red stripes and six white strips; together they represent the original 13 colonies that gained us liberty.

Scout #2: The red stripes remind us of the lifeblood of brave men and women who were ready to die for this, their country.

Scout #3: The white stripes remind us of purity and cleanliness of purpose, thought, word and deed.

Scout #4: The blue is for truth and justice, like the eternal blue of the star-filled heavens.

Scout #5: The stars represent the fifty sovereign states of our union.

Adult Leader or SPL: The U.S. flag should be treated with respect when it's flying, and it should be treated with respect when it's being retired.

Scout #6: The American Creed states, "it is my duty to my country to love it, to respect its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies."

Scout #7: Therefore, we retire flags with dignity and respect when they become worn, torn, faded, or badly soiled.

Adult Leader or SPL: This flag is ready to be retired. Its history is as follows:

First Raised (when):
At (location):
Memorable event or fact:

Scout #8: A flag ceases to be a flag when it is cut into pieces. We cut the flag into the star field and the red and white stripes. We leave the blue field intact because no one should ever let the union be broken.

The Scouts then place the pieces into a ceremonial box or container to be later recycled properly.  This concludes this ceremony. Thank you for attending.