Cleaning up after Veterans Day: This flag is not disposable

by David Goldstein

The United States Flag Code is a federal law, but compliance depends on good will. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a criminal statue making it illegal to “mutilate, deface, defile, or burn” an American flag, so now all the provisions of the code are all phrased with words such as “should.” A sense of decency is now Old Glory’s best protection.

Nevertheless, within our country’s general population, inconsistency is common. Many people seem to take great offence when someone refuses to honor the Flag Code’s rules for standing in the presence of the flag during the playing of the National Anthem, but fewer may be familiar with the etiquette required for proper retirement of flags no longer fit for service. American flags, even cheap little plastic ones, are not disposable with trash.

Fewer still may be aware of another environmental, economic, and modern way of honoring the flag. By avoiding flimsy plastic flags and reusing a durable flag, people who care about honoring the flag can make it less likely a flag will be improperly disposed. Good flags also impose less burden on private businesses and service organization members who manage the deluge of flags requiring dignified retirement.

Jeanne Clark, General Manager of Ivy Lawn Cemetery in Ventura reports concerns with cheap flags made for limited use. “Wind really beats those up. They don’t last,” she said. Ivy Lawn Cemetery saves retired flags and provides dignified disposal on a day designated for use of the cemetery’s crematoria. No cremations of bodies occur on that day, and extensive pollution control equipment mitigates emissions from the burning of plastic flags.

Flags draping coffins at the funerals of veterans are more easily reused. In cases where families do not want to take home the flag and the veteran is not buried with the flag tri-folded into a plastic case in the casket, staff saves flags for display on an avenue of flags on the streets of the cemetery.

A drop-box for retired flags is available in front of the Ventura County Government Center Hall of Administration, serviced by Veterans of Foreign Wars volunteers. Other service organizations providing flag service include some chapters of the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County, Elks Lodge, and Boy Scouts.

David Goldstein is an Environmental Analyst with Ventura County Public Works and can be reached at (805) 658-4312 or [email protected]

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