Can you believe that the Fourth of July is just around the corner?

In between planning a festive weekend full of BBQs, fireworks, and lake activities (at least for those of us here in the land of 10,000 lakes), we found ourselves wondering: What happens to American flags when they reach the end of their life?

We did some digging and found that there are several appropriate way to dispose of (and recycle!) the American flag.

But first, a few facts about the nation’s flag that we learned along the way:

Historically, American flags were made from cotton, wool, or other natural fibers, and guidelines for displaying and disposing of the flag were based on this fact. For example, guidelines still exist that suggest a flag made of cotton or wool should not be flown during inclement weather to prevent damaging the flag. With this in mind, the preferred and most customary method of disposal is to respectfully burn your damaged flag.

The VFW lists the step for the proper burning of a flag, which include:

  • Folding the flag in a customary manner (like this or this)
  • Ensuring your fire is large enough to completely burn the flag
  • Placing the flag on fire
  • During the burning of the flag, some choose to come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and hold a period of silence
  • Burying the ashes once the flag is completely burned
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Some argue that this is the only method in which you should dispose of a flag. However, many flags are now produced using vinyl, nylon, and other synthetic materials, and burning a flag made of synthetic material can do more harm than good. Organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts of America now promote alternative solutions to burning flags made of synthetic material.

If you have a damaged flag made of synthetic materials that you need to dispose of, here are three suggested alternatives to consider:

1. Bury Your Flag

An alternative to burning is to bury your flag. This method suggests finding a sturdy wooden box to place the flag in and then properly burying the flag. Some may choose to hold a moment of silence or create a marker for the flag.

2. Donate Your Flag

Several organizations will properly dispose of your flag for you for free. USA Flag Supply will dispose of your flag and give you 10% off a new one, and your local Girl Scouts or VFW can also take your damaged flags and dispose of them respectfully.

3. Recycle Your Flag

Organizations like American Flag Recycling now exist to help you effectively dispose of flags made from synthetic materials. According to their website, “A new nylon recycling process has been discovered that converts virtually 100% of a nylon flag back into virgin grade nylon material which can be made into another new American flag.”

American Flag Recycling asks for a suggested donation based on the size of flag you plan to recycle. They also work with various groups to provide flags to those serving overseas.

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May your Fourth of July be filled with good food,  weather, and company!

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