Why and How to Measure Food Loss and Waste

Household - Why and How to Measure Food Loss and Waste


Within the food supply chain, the household sector encompasses all food preparation and consumption in the home. While it is uncommon for individual households to independently track their food waste, governmental or nongovernmental organizations may want to monitor household FLW. In this guide, the household sector includes only food consumed in the home. Food consumed away from home falls under the food service stage in the food supply chain.

FLW in the household can be caused by preparation mistakes, lack of proper storage infrastructure or practices, trimming for consistency, misshapen products, spillage during handling, poor portion control, contamination, overproduction, food safety concerns, or many other factors.

Methods Used to Measure FLW

Appropriate methods for FLW measurement depend on the context of who is doing the measuring and what information is available. Start by answering the five questions below.

  • Do you have direct access to the FLW? Does the method require the ability to directly count, handle or weigh the FLW?
  • What level of accuracy do you need? How accurate will the data gathered with this method be?
  • What amount of time and resources can you assign to measuring FLW? The relative amount of resources (time, money, equipment) needed to carry out the method.
  • Do you need a method that can tracks causes of FLW? Some methods can track causes associated with FLW and others cannot.
  • Do you want to track progress over time? Some methods can assess increases or decreases in FLW across time to track progress.

Based on your needs and the answers to these questions, you can use Table 13 to determine which method or methods are most appropriate. If you are addressing multiple types of FLW (for example, both solid and liquid FLW), you may need to select multiple types of methods.

Table 13. Methods Used to Measure FLW in the Household Sector

Method Name Direct FLW Access Needed? Level of Accuracy? Level of Resources Required? Tracks Causes? Tracks Progress Over Time?
Methods for gathering new data
Diaries No Low-Medium Medium Yes Yes
Direct Measurement Yes High High Yes Yes
Interviews/Surveys No Low-Medium Medium-High Yes Yes
Waste Composition Analysis Yes High High No Yes
Methods based on existing data
Proxy Data No Low Low No No
Records No Variable* Low No Yes
Less commonly used methods at the household sector
Mass Balance No Medium Low No Yes

*Accuracy depends on the type of record used: for example, waste transfer receipts may be highly accurate for determing FLW levels, whereas other records are less accurate.
Note: The methods named are nonexhaustive.
Source: Authors.

For additional guidance in selecting a method, see the FLW Quantification Method Ranking Tool published by the Food Loss and Waste Protocol, which asks 11 questions and provides a ranked list of methods based on your answers,

Case Study for the Household Level

A household survey in Mexico City and Jiutepec, Mexico collected demographic and behavioral information alongside a week-long FLW diary. Using this data together gives a more complete image of household FLW and allows analysis of the effects of various socioeconomic factors to identify root causes of household FLW. The results could inform local government agencies, NGOs and others about the potential effectiveness of intervention strategies. Such a community-centered approach lends itself to more tailored (and hopefully more effective) approaches to prevent FLW than broader surveys and diaries (Jean-Baptiste 2013).