Amid the many tons of garbage that have flowed to the new waste processing facility in Hampden, workers have made an unpleasant discovery: Some broad stripes and bright stars are also streaming through the muck.
More than 30 American flags have been plucked out of the waste that arrives each day at the Coastal Resources of Maine plant off Coldbrook Road.
The plant’s staff is working with Hampden officials and a group of local Boy Scouts to provide a more gallant ending for the national flags that Mainers have been chucking in with their old food scraps, Amazon packaging and other rubbish.
The bulk of the flags seemed to arrive in June, possibly because people were replacing their old flags ahead of the upcoming July 4 festivities.
They came in different sizes, materials and conditions, with some brand new in an unopened box, and others tattered and soiled, possibly from their recent ride on the dump truck.
For now, when technicians find the flags in the piles of waste that are dumped at their facility and sent through a series of sorting machines, they pull them out and hang them along the railings of the multi-story equipment, according to Shelby Wright, the facility’s director of community resources.
“Pretty soon it won’t be green-and-yellow anymore,” Wright said of the machinery, which has the color scheme of a John Deere tractor. “It’s going to be red, white and blue.”
At the same time, the company has reached out to local officials so they can try to destroy the flags in the respectful manner that’s recommended by federal law.
“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning,” according to the country’s so-called “Flag Code.”
In fact, there are no penalties for violating the Flag Code and it’s only meant to be “voluntarily followed,” according to a 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service.
Still, groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Boy Scouts of America have established procedures for disposing of old flags in a respectful way. The VFW, for example, suggests folding the flag, lighting a fire big enough to incinerate it, saluting and saying the pledge of allegiance as it burns, and then burying the ashes.
If you’re concerned about burning flags that have been made with plastic, the Boy Scouts alternatively suggests cutting them up in an approved way and sending them to groups that recycle them.
“Throwing your flag in the trash is not respectful or dignified treatment,” Wright said. “We felt we should take matters into our own hands and give the flags the retirement they deserve, because they just keep coming.”
Hampden-based Boy Scout Troop 41 is planning to hold a formal ceremony to retire the flags recovered from the plant, according to Town Councilor Eric Jarvi.
During an event at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 that will take place at a veterans monument at the Hampden Town Office, the Boy Scouts and the town’s public works and safety departments will help burn the flags in a safe manner, Jarvi said.
By organizing such an event, Jarvi hopes the town can raise awareness about the importance of giving Old Glory a proper ending.
He noted that the local Erickson’s Hardware and Gift store works with the Boy Scouts to collect old flags from members of the public so that they can be destroyed. He also said Hampden may hold additional flag retirement ceremonies in the future.
“The public is disposing of the flags in the solid waste stream, and that’s absolutely the wrong way to be disposing of the symbol of our country,” said Jarvi, who served in the U.S. Air Force for six years. “I wonder if maybe people don’t understand. If this is going on in Hampden, imagine what’s going on around the rest of state. Maybe we can serve as a model.”