Scouts across the country respectfully retire worn-out American flags, most often by burning — the preferred method, according to the U.S. Flag Code. But burning isn’t the only retirement option.
American flags can be retired by a number of ways, such as burning or recycling. Flags that are dirty or that have touched the ground do not need to be retired; you can clean them. Only when the flag is no longer fit to display, such as being tattered or discolored, should it be solemnly retired.
There’s no official ceremony script to follow, and the BSA does not require one method over another. A key element is to retire the flag in a dignified manner.
Burying a flag can be done in a dignified way, and it might be your chosen method, especially when you consider the flag’s material. Many flags today are not made from wool or cotton, but rather more durable materials, like nylon and polyester. These synthetic materials can be hazardous when burned.
When it comes to retiring synthetic flags, the BSA strongly advocates choosing alternative methods to burning. You should evaluate the risks associated with any chosen method.
For burying, one way is to properly fold the flag and place it in a quality wooden box. Dig a hole a few feet deep in an area that won’t later be disturbed, and put the box in the ground. As the flag is being buried, observe a moment of silence.
Again, there’s no official ceremony, so you can alter what I just mentioned. If you want more ideas on flag ceremonies or other flag-related content, refer to these links here:
- What to do with flag grommets
- Build a flag retirement collection box
- Flag placement during ceremonies
- Flag etiquette
- Flying a flag at half-staff
To help Scouters on how to handle their unit’s next flag retirement ceremony, comment below with your ideas.