Wrapped in the stars and stripes, and emblazoned with the striking profile of a bald eagle, the new box in front of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District headquarters is hard to miss.
This isn’t just an aesthetic addition, though: It’s a retirement home for American flags.
The sanitary district — which provides sewer and curbside trash collection services in Costa Mesa, parts of Newport Beach and some unincorporated sections of Orange County — launched a new program Monday aimed at keeping flags out of the landfill so they can be disposed of properly and respectfully.
Now, residents can at any time place their worn or faded flags in the box at district headquarters, 290 Paularino Ave. in Costa Mesa, where they will be kept secure until representatives from local Boy Scout Troop 316 come to collect them.
District General Manager Scott Carroll said the idea was to give the public “an easy and convenient way to [properly] dispose of U.S. flags.”
It helped that the district already had a suitable drop box on hand, according to Carroll. All it needed was the decorative wrap.
The program got off the ground, thanks in part to Dan Worthington, a former sanitary district board member.
Worthington had seen similar boxes installed elsewhere and wondered why the sanitary district didn’t have one of its own. So he reached out to the Boy Scouts of America Orange County Council to see if a local troop would be interested in partnering on a flag-disposal program.
“Our nation desperately needs something to bring it together, and taking flags and bringing the respect to them that they’re due, in my mind, is extremely important,” he said Monday.
That respect was drilled into the 84-year-old Costa Mesa resident during his time in the military. Worthington joined the U.S. Navy in 1952, during the Korean War, and later served in the Army.
“You’re initiated in the importance of the American flag when you’re an active-duty person,” he said. “It starts out every morning at reveille when you walk out and salute the flag being raised and it ends in the evening. It gets imbued into your whole psyche, ‘This is the flag, this is what I’m going to be fighting for and there’s nothing like it.’ ”
Typically, American flags are retired over a fire, with those in attendance sending them on their way with a respectful ceremony and final salute.
“The flag represents hundreds of years of this country fighting for its freedoms, and it represents a lot of families,” said Rion Dalby, the scoutmaster of Costa Mesa-based Troop 316.
Ensuring that flags are disposed of properly is a duty that the scouts proudly perform, Dalby said Monday, and members of the public regularly entrust local troops with overseeing their flags’ finales.
“A lot of them know, ‘I don’t think I’m supposed to throw this away,’ ” he said. “I think the purpose of this box was to catch the other half … and make sure that they don’t end up in the Orange County trash pile.”
Worthington said he’d like to see other cities and agencies stand up to support that mission too.
“I want to see this concept spread throughout Orange County — at least one per city,” he said. “We already know that when trash is collected off the curbside that there are flags that people are throwing away … because they have no idea what to do with them. We’ve got to stop that.”