This article presents the results of a life‐cycle materials and energy flow analysis for the pulp and paper cycle in the United Kingdom. Material flows are reconstructed for the period be‐tween 1987 and 1996 for all major processes associated with the paper cycle, and system energy requirements are calculated over this period using the best available data. Attention is drawn to the import dependence of U.K. paper demand, and the significant energy requirements associated with upstream forestry processes. The historical trend analysis is then used to model possible future developments in materials and energy consumption until 2010 under a variety of assumptions about process technology improvements, wastepaper utilization rates, and changing demand trends. The results indicate that policy options to increase recycling yield some energy benefits, but these are small by comparison with the benefits to be gained by reducing consumption of paper and improving process technology. The structure of the electricity supply industry in the United Kingdom means that global energy benefits could also be achieved by increasing the contribution from imported pulp.