But when Red Nose Day is over, does that mean a Red Nose’s job is also done? Not necessarily.
“Red Nose Day is such a successful campaign for us, and being the exclusive seller of the Red Nose gives us so many opportunities to do good things for the world,” says John Kotlarczyk, senior director, CSR and waste reduction for Walgreens Boots Alliance. “But one opportunity we saw was finding a way of reusing or recycling some of this extra material we were putting out into the world.”
One of the principles that drives their environmental sustainability work for WBA is making sure their initiatives always take the Circular Economy into consideration – a model of production and consumption which involves reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling materials and products as long as possible.
So Kotlarczyk, along with Dan Leskovec, senior manager, sustainability and waste reduction, got to work thinking what they could do with all those red foam noses.
“Dan and I are tasked with figuring out how to deal with stuff – that’s probably the simplest way to put it,” says Kotlarczyk. “And some of that stuff is pretty easy to deal with, and some of it’s tough to deal with. But the bottom line is, no matter what, we’re trying to avoid sending any of this stuff to the landfill.”
Red Noses, as it turns out, fall into the category of “tough stuff,” as they are made of polyurethane foam, and there is a limited number of things it can be repurposed into.
“One of the things a lot of companies do with polyurethane foam is grind it up and turn it into a large mat or carpet padding,” says Kotlarczyk. “But when we were thinking about giving Red Noses a second life, we wanted the solution to also fit into the mission of Red Nose Day itself, and that’s all about helping kids.”
Leskovec found a vendor in Evansville, Ind., Green Tree Plastics, which deals with repurposing material like this. Green Tree worked with the Walgreens team to figure out a more creative solution, and ended up settling on … something you might settle on yourself: a bench.
The first prototype was made in the summer of 2019, using 1,500 recycled Red Noses. By January 2020, using the previous year’s batch of noses before the 2020 switch to digital Red Noses due to the pandemic, 19 more were made. In all, 28,500 Red Noses were used – more than 788 pounds of recycled material that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. It’s enough Red Noses that, lined up, would run slightly longer than the Kentucky Derby.
See the recycling process for yourself:
More than just a simple bench, these were special. The “Buddy Benches” would be donated to schools across the country, helping the Red Noses continue doing what they were made to do – support kids.
“The Buddy Bench symbolizes a safe place for a child at school,” says Mary Corigliano, SVP, brand and marketing for Comic Relief US, the organization behind Red Nose Day and Walgreens’ partner on the Buddy Bench program. “Aside from just being a nice place for a child to sit, it’s also an opportunity to teach empathy and kindness.”
Corigliano explains that the intention behind the benches is to provide kids at school a place that, once they sit down, signals to their classmates or teachers that they might need a little bit of extra support, or that they had a bad day and could use a “buddy” to talk to.
“Red Nose Day is built on a premise of empathy and kindness,” says Corigliano. “So we’re using these benches, and these recycled Red Noses, to help teach the next generation to create a kinder, more compassionate society. It really is a beautiful extension of our partnership with Walgreens and the Red Nose Day campaign overall.”
The Buddy Benches were picked up and stored at Walgreens Distribution Center in Mount Vernon, Ill.
Schools were identified by Walgreens and Comic Relief US to be recipients of the Buddy Benches – most of which had preexisting relationships with Red Nose Day and demonstrated the values of the campaign by participating in meaningful activities throughout the year.
But just as they were identified, and the benches were preparing to be delivered, schools in the U.S. were shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in the fall of 2020, as schools began to open back up, outreach – and bench delivery – began again.
“Our goal by this fall is to be able to have all the benches at schools and have a bit of a grand unveiling event at each one,” says Kotlarczyk. “The schools that have received them are already so excited. Some have sent us pictures of where they are going to put them and messages of gratitude from teachers and administrators.”
And just like that, Kotlarczyk and Leskovec found a creative solution to a recycling challenge, Comic Relief US and Walgreens found a meaningful way to deepen the impact of their partnership, and thousands of Red Noses were able to continue their mission to help kids well beyond Red Nose Day itself.
While supporters can’t buy the Red Noses in stores this year because of the pandemic, the digital nose is available through May 31 by donating to Red Nose Day at walgreens.com/rednoseday to help their work for children across the U.S. and around the world.