Did you know the Boy Scouts of America is one of the very few organizations that have an official code for flag retirement? Respect for our nation’s symbols are an integral part of being a reverent, responsible Scout; thus we have specific rules for the appropriate retirement of the United States flag. In fact, conducting a flag retirement ceremony is a very meaningful opportunity for Scouts and Scouters to reflect on the meaning of the flag as a great symbol of freedom.
The BSA Handbook states: “A national flag that is worn beyond repair may be burned in a fire. The ceremony should be conducted with dignity and respect and the flag burned completely to ashes.”
Furthermore the comprehensive Scouting book, “Your Flag: Everything You Want to Know About the Flag of the United States of America” explains, “When the national flag is worn beyond repair, burn it throughly and completely on a modest, but blazing, fire. This should be done in a simple manner with dignity and respect. Be sure the flag is reduced to ashes unrecognizable as a former flag.” Title 4 of the U.S. Flag Code also explains the same method as proper protocol.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the United States flag is more than just a banner of red, white and blue. The Boy Scout Handbook explains, “As the symbol of America, it stands for the past, present, and future of our country. It represents our people, our land, and our many ways of life.”
Other Acceptable Flag Retirement Methods
While burning the flag is the preferable method of disposal by the BSA and U.S. Flag Code, there are other dignified ways to retire the flag too. If your flag is made from synthetic materials that could be environmentally harmful (like flame retardants or other noxious coatings), recycling the flag may be your best option. In this case, delivering the flag to a nylon recycling plant would acceptable. For this option, you can still conduct a flag ceremony and pay tribute before flag send-off.
Another recycling option involves cutting the flag with an approved technique that avoids tearing through the blue star field. Once the flag is cut, it is no longer an official flag and can be disposed of.
Although somewhat less ceremonial, many Scouts and Scouters prefer these methods for their eco-friendliness. Recycled flags not only produce the least amount of waste, but they’re also repurposed for others to enjoy for years to come.
How Organizations Have Teamed Up with the BSA to Retire Flags
Some organizations look to the BSA for assistance in proper flag retirement. For example, in an effort to help collect soiled, used, or damaged U.S. flags in communities in Florida, Goodwill teamed up with the BSA to gather flags for retirement. The collected flags were sent to Boy Scouts of America for proper flag retirement ceremonies. During these ceremonies Scouts were encouraged to reflect on our nation’s independence.
“Flag retirement has been a tradition for Boy Scouts for decades,” said Greg Graham, Scout Executive of the Southwest Florida Council to Florida Weekly. “It teaches our Scouts respect for the country. They are retiring a symbol of honor, courage and strength of our nation where many have selflessly sacrificed for others’ freedom.”
Learn More About Proper Flag Retirement
Check out the Bryan on Scouting story uncovering what to do with leftover grommets from retirement ceremonies, and learn more about flag etiquette from the Nashville Scouts of Troop 1914. Share with us in the comments below, how does your troop retire worn U.S. flags?