U.S. Flag Retirement

Everything a Scout should know about U.S. Flag Retirement

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 thoroughly 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 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.


File Name Description
Flag Retirement Article - Daily Journal Article from the Daily Journal (December 2010) highlighting Scouting's role in retiring U.S. Flags. Download
Flag Retirement Ceremonies Several different Flag Retirement ceremonies that can be used by Scout units. Download