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Is It Illegal to Throw Away an American Flag?

is it illegal to throw away an american flag

One of the most patriotic symbols you can have is your country’s flag. For every country, there’s always laws and other regulations about handling, storing, and everything about national flags. For example, it’s illegal in Denmark to destroy a foreign flag, including the American flag. In the Philippines, bars, nightclubs, casinos, and other places where vices are done, aren’t allowed to display the country’s flag. In Singapore, you cannot display the national flag on any private ship, plane, or vehicle. 


In almost every country, throwing away a flag is considered disrespectful. Violating these laws can get you in trouble and possible jail time in most countries. However, there are times when flags become worn out and need to be disposed of. There are also rules as to how one should dispose of a national flag. You can get penalized if you’re not careful with how you get rid of a flag.

So Is It Illegal to Throw Away an American Flag?

The short answer is No. It isn’t illegal to throw away the American flag. The flag code or any legislation also doesn’t say anything illegal about disposing of the American flag. The lack of enforcement, however, does not mean that you should chuck away your American flag in a trash bin just because you don’t want it or don’t have any use for it anymore. 


The only time you should throw away an American flag is when it’s too soiled and impossible to clean, or if it’s tattered, way beyond repair. If a flag has any alterations or damages, it’s in no condition for you to display. Unless something is wrong with your flag, you should keep it in a safe place.

I Have a Worn-Out Flag, so How Should I Dispose of It?

In many patriotic American homes, it’s often common for homeowners to have their flags and display them on their houses come July 4 of every year. With that said, if you have a worn-out flag, how do you dispose of it properly? 


Instead of throwing a flag in the trash, the proper way to dispose of a damaged American flag is by burning it. Yes, it may seem harsh, but burning a flag that’s in a bad condition is a respectful way to get rid of it. Burning a tattered flag also ensures that no one can use it again for other unintended purposes.


Countries such as Australia, Belgium, the US, and even Canada allow flag disposal by burning. However, note that burning a flag isn’t just lighting up a fire pit and tossing it in. There also must be proper ways to be observed when burning the American flag. 

Doing It the Right Way

If you’re burning a tattered flag, ensure you do it correctly. Here are some key preparations to observe when burning one: 


  • Before burning a flag, consider the materials your flag is made out of. Some materials may emit toxic fumes when burned. There are other ways(we’ll discuss these later on) to dispose of a flag other than burning it.
  • Check with local fire ordinances if they allow open burning in your area.
  • Choose the right place. If you own the flag to be burned, your backyard or another private place can be a suitable venue.
  • Before burning the worn-out flag, fold it the traditional way(be sure to read on to know how). 
  • After folding the flag, your fire should be large enough to burn the flag completely. Slowly and respectfully place the folded flag into the fire. 
  • Do not allow the flag to touch the ground.
  • Always observe silence when the flag is burning. Some people may choose to salute or say the pledge of allegiance, but it isn’t required.
  • Make sure that every bit of the flag is burned and that nothing but ash is left behind.
  • When cleaning up, gather the ashes of the flag and bury them properly.

Folding the American Flag Properly

Before starting, the flag should be positioned horizontally. As most flags are big, two people are required to be standing in front of each other, holding both ends of the flag. The flag should also be folded tightly and should never touch the ground. With those preparations in mind, here are the steps to fold the flag properly:


  • Fold the flag in half, lengthwise. The fold should cover the stars with the stripes.
  • Fold the flag lengthwise for the second time. This fold should now expose the stars.
  • Start folding the flag into triangular pieces from the stripe side. Repeat this process until one fold is left.
  • With one fold left from the stripe side, perform the triangular fold from the star side once.
  • The newly folded side should then be tucked tightly into the rest of the flag.
  • The folded flag should form a medium-sized triangle. The stripes and the header with the hoist grommet should completely be hidden in this last stage.

Alternative Ways of Disposing of a Flag

Aside from burning, there are other safer options you can consider. All these options abide with respect to the flag code.

Going to a Local Community Disposal Box

Many local government offices and police stations have boxes specifically made for disposed flags. You can also look at local hardware and grocery shops for these boxes. After enough flags have been gathered, recognized organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts, the American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars hold proper flag disposal ceremonies.

Recycling Your Flag

Another efficient and respectful way of disposing of a worn-out flag is by handing them over to a flag company. These companies accept old, tattered flags and use the materials gathered from them to make new ones.

Burying the Flag

If you don’t want to give away or burn your flag, you can bury it instead. Before burying the flag, make sure to have it folded the traditional way. Choose a wooden box that’s free from any design, marking, or writing, and place the folded flag inside. Dig a small hole that’s enough to cover the box. Offer a moment of silence for the flag after you’ve buried it in the ground.


Flags are national symbols that should be used and treated with respect. As such, when a flag becomes too worn out to use, it should also be disposed of in a respectful and dignified way as well.

Check out our bylaws category to find out more local laws! 

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